Facebook: Was It Really A “Data Breach”?

Facebook-Data Breach

Wow.  All that I can say at this point is just, "Wow".  

This whole Facebook "data breach" scandal is a huge and sweeping compromise of Facebook user data, much of it without the user's permission, for the ultimate goal of influencing voters in multiple countries and manipulating them using carefully designed ads, posts, images and quizzes designed to sway the public opinion about specific candidates and topics.

Facebook has been trying to deny that this has been an actual data breach, explaining that users gave their permission for their data to be accessed when they took the online quiz that started this whole ordeal.  But what about the rest of us who never gave that permission, but are Facebook friends with somebody who did, so our data got taken, as well?

In short - we've been played like a violin, and the strings are still vibrating from the touch of dirty fingers.  I makes me angry.  It makes me worried.  It makes me feel like we have no control over our own data, just like with the massive EquiFax data breach last year, but with one major difference: With EquiFax, we had no control whatsoever over the fact that EquiFax was gathering and processing our personal data.  With Facebook, you had to have an active Facebook account in order for your data to be "scraped" and then sold to Cambridge Analytica. 

Why didn't we post a blog on this topic sooner?  Because it is a complicated, evolving situation.  When the news about the data collected from Facebook users first broke in mid-March, there were still so many unanswered questions, and every day new information is still being reported that continues to change the storyline.  In fact, it was just revealed over this past weekend that it wasn't just 50 MILLION users' data that had been gathered without their knowledge and shared with paying customers of Cambridge Analytica, but 87 MILLION.  The story keeps getting bigger and more complicated, and Facebook stock is plummeting in value as a result.

Plus, there is the political aspect of the situation that has caused us to proceed cautiously with our blog post on this topic.  All indications are that the candidates who contracted Cambridge Analytica for data to be used strategically in advertising campaigns, political events and targeted news stories were members of the same political party.  As an American business, we try very hard to not favor any one political party over another or to take sides in any political debates or controversies.   We believe that it is the right of every American citizen to make up their own minds about their political beliefs and vote for whomever they think will best represent them in office, and we encourage everyone to do just that, regardless of their political affiliations.  So, this has been a difficult topic to cover without seeming like we are taking sides.  

Having said that, there is still an important story to cover that we feel you ought to know about, and this is our best effort to stay neutral while providing as many facts as possible on the whole Facebook scandal. 

Here is a summary of the events in the order that they have been reported in the news media, with links to some key articles that explain each component in more detail (links to other articles are in blue):

  • Cambridge Analytica was founded in 2013 as an offshoot of the SCL Group, a British research firm partly owned by Robert Mercer
  • Cambridge Analytica bought the personal information  gathered from over 300,000 Facebook users with their permission in 2013 through the use of a voluntary "personality test" called "ThisIsYourDigitalLife", which was designed by a psychologist.  The data gathered was then sold to Cambridge Analytica, who  analyzed it and then used it to create political strategies that they could market and sell for profit based on individual psychological profiles of the users' data.
  • Those Facebook users who took the online quiz granted permission (whether they read the fine print or not) to the application to gather information from all of their Facebook friends' accounts, as well - without their friends'  permission.  (This is where the "data breach" occurred)
  • The gathered psychological (or "psychographic") information was then used to help political candidates in the 2016 presidential primaries to plan their campaign strategies.
  • Cambridge Analytica is also being investigated for providing similar data and services that helped to alter the outcome of the Brexit vote in the U.K.
  • A number of other prominent politicians and businessmen have also used Cambridge Analytica and their "data research" team.
  • Steve Bannon was the Vice President and part owner of Cambridge Analytica before joining Donald Trump's Presidential election campaign.
  • A former Cambridge Analytica researcher "blew the whistle" on the company back in mid-March, which is what kicked off this entire scandal.
  • Cambridge Analytica is also being investigated for possible ties to Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential elections.
  • Fox News reported on March 18th that Facebook had suspended Cambridge Analytica's access to Facebook.
  • Facebook is overhauling the privacy settings for Facebook accounts to provide better protection for users.
  • Facebook stock values have continued to plunge since this whole story went public.
  • Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerburg has been called to appear before congress this week to answer questions about the data protection policies for Facebook users and how their data was collected without their permission.

That's a LOT of information to cover in a single blog post, and we have only covered the biggest highlights and headlines in this outline.   There are literally thousands of additional articles out there to read if you want more information.

We understand that politics often involve "dirty business" and that both parties have used questionable tactics in their past political campaigns; we are not implying that one side is more innocent or guilty than the other one.  However, we do not condone or support any plan, tactic or methodology that makes use of illegal, unethical or immoral data collection practices by any political party.  We also do not endorse the use of "psychological manipulation" to try to sway the votes of the American people in any election by using their own personal and supposedly private information.  Freedom of Speech and the right to vote your conscience are two things that we think that all United States citizens should stand behind and defend, and those are the principles that our Founding Fathers built this country on.

So, if you are outraged at Facebook for allowing such shady dealings to take place on their social media forum and would like to know how to modify your privacy settings in order to better protect your personal information, this article provides some very straightforward instructions for doing that: http://www.trustedreviews.com/news/facebook-privacy-settings-2939307

If you would like to join the growing number of people who are leaving Facebook altogether, here are instructions for either disabling or permanently deleting your Facebook account on the Internet: http://www.trustedreviews.com/news/how-to-delete-facebook-account-2950145

We are not advocating either one of those actions - that is your decision to make.  However, if you want to know what personal information Facebook currently has about you, here are simple instructions for downloading it all to your personal computer so that you can review it:  http://www.alphr.com/facebook/1003521/see-everything-facebook-knows-about-you-here-s-how.

Remember: This all started with a quiz that was posted on Facebook that users chose to take voluntarily.  If you have been following our blog posts for the past few years, you know that we have regularly advised users who feel the desire or need to use Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends, or to promote their businesses, that they should be extremely careful about sticking to the main timeline pages to read and make posts, and try to avoid the distracting advertisements, games and quizzes that are always appearing along the side of the page.  Ignore them, and stick to posting your photos, family news and business events, and reading other users' posts on the main part of the page.  That is the best way to keep your computer clean and your data where it belongs.

It can be a sneaky and dangerous world out there on the Internet, so please - let's be careful out there.

     -PJ, on behalf of the PJ Networks Team

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