Two Years Later: Cambridge Analytica and Its Impact on Data Privacy

In 2018, it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica had access to 87 million Facebook users’ data and had used that data to interfere with elections. In today’s post, we look at the most recent information from the ongoing Cambridge Analytica scandal, the history of it, and then look at how marketing, data, and business have been impacted as a result.

What’s New With Cambridge Analytica?

It’s been two years since the news broke that Cambridge Analytica had wielded the data of 87 million Facebook users to get their client, Donald Trump, elected to the White House.

On January 1, 2020, a whistleblower by the name of Brittany Kaiser started releasing documentation that revealed the scale of the data Cambridge Analytica and SLC Group held. It contained data from countries all over the world and revealed the mishandling of user data.

Some of the most publicized information released from Kaiser is a series of emails between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica from 2016.

In one of those emails, a Facebook rep asks that Cambridge Analytica delete its illegally and improperly obtained data. The rep accepts an email as written confirmation that the data was deleted without asking for further evidence.

But there is no way to prove that the data had been deleted and 16 months later, Cambridge Analytica sends Facebook a signed confirmation letter that the data had been deleted.

The US election occurred in the time between the first email that said the data had been deleted and the signed certification that the data was gone. Check out the emails here if you’re interested.

In response, Facebook says that Cambridge Analytica was selling “snake oil” and that its business practices were nominally effective.

A Brief History of the Cambridge Analytica Scandal    

In 2013, Cambridge academic Aleksandr Kogan created an app called “This Is Your Digital Life” for his company Global Science Research.

300,000 users were paid to take the psychological exam through the app. It then mined not only the data of the 300,000 users that took the exam but also the data of their friends.

This allowed Kogan and his team access to 87 million users worth of data.

In 2014, Facebook changed its rules for developers so that apps couldn’t mine friend’s data without explicit permission.

That didn’t change the fact that Kogan had already mined millions of profiles for data.

Then, in 2015, The Guardian reported that Ted Cruz’s campaign was using Cambridge Analytica to apply psychological data from Facebook users and gain an edge of his then-opponent Donald Trump.

In the time leading up to the 2016 election, the Trump campaign invested heavily in Facebook ads and Cambridge Analytica took credit for the “Defeat Crooked Hilary” video that circulated on Facebook during that time.

In 2018, The Guardian and The New York Times revealed that 50 million (later revised to 87 million) Facebook users’ data was given to Cambridge Analytica. This led to an FTC investigation, interviews of the Facebook CEO, and endless apologies from the company and Mark Zuckerberg.

By the end of the year, Cambridge Analytica and its parent company SLC Group had shuttered their doors.

The Impact

It’s been two years since the news broke about Cambridge Analytica’s data scandal, and almost 5 years since the company’s name hit the news.

We are coming up on another election, which has triggered conversations about psychological data manipulation and data privacy.

What has changed as a result of the 2018 scandal?

Social Networks Change Their Privacy Policies

Facebook made a series of changes to its business tools, making sure that businesses went through the proper channels to work on behalf of other companies. Facebook locked down custom audiences, making sure that the data collected in this manner wouldn’t be sold to third parties.

Many third-party apps had much of their API access revoked, limiting the amount of data that companies can collect externally.

Many social networks, like Twitter and Facebook, now allow users to see, edit, and/or delete their data on the platforms. This comes as a result of legislation like GDPR and CCPA, which we talk about below.

California Consumer Privacy Act

The California Consumer Privacy Act or CCPA was passed in January 2018 and enacted in June 2018.This occurred as Facebook and Cambridge Analytica started to face a massive amount of backlash from their data mishandling. The act gives California residents the right to:

  • Know what personal data is being collected about them
  • Know whether their data is being sold and to whom
  • Say no to the sale of personal data
  • Access to the data collected about them
  • Request deletion of their data
  • Not see a reduction in access to services

This is considered gateway legislation, as it will change how most US-based companies handle and collect data about California residents.

Google To Revoke Third-Party Cookie Access

Recently, Google announced that in the next two years, it would entirely block third-party cookies’ access to Chrome.

This seems like a data-privacy move that will impact the way many marketers do business.

Chrome is currently used by 70% of desktop users and 41% of mobile users. That’s a huge share of the market.

It will be interesting to see how this will impact digital marketing in the coming years.

In a world post-Cambridge Analytica, marketing companies will need to continue to take care and ensure that they are collecting, protecting, and storing data responsibly.

In 2018, there was a knowledge gap between what data collection companies (and marketers) were doing and what consumers realized they were doing. That knowledge gap no longer exists, and companies will have to shift their policies accordingly, especially as more and more laws are enacted to protect user privacy.

Data is a valuable commodity and users now know it. Consider your policies and ask yourself: Would this data usage bother my consumers? How can we change our policies to fix that?

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