Several bombshell reports were released over the weekend that accused data firm Cambridge Analytica of “improperly obtaining” information from up to 50 million Facebook users for the purposes of targeting them during the 2016 election.
Cambridge Analytica obtained the information in the first place from a researcher who designed a personality prediction app. Facebook responded by suspending the firm after it found out that the user data it had gathered had not been destroyed, as promised.
This case certainly represents a large gray area. Both Facebook and the data firm have claimed, rightly, that they didn’t violate any laws. And Facebook can’t punish third parties if they obtain user data with the user’s permission — which the personality prediction app did. The only thing technically wrong that happened here was when the researcher behind the app giving the user info to another party.
Still, experts are using this as an example of why it’s so important to maintain control over our personal information.
“Once our personal data is in someone else’s hands, it’s extremely difficult to take back control — with potentially disastrous results for public safety, discourse and democracy,” Web Foundation’s policy director Craig Fagan said in a statement. “Platforms must fully embrace their responsibility to do whatever it takes to keep user data safe from abuse.”
The ramifications of this issue are just beginning to be felt, and it’s unclear what consequences will follow — but it’s certainly not good news for Facebook’s public image.