Cambridge Analytica Scandal: Should We Be Concerned?

The Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal is doing the rounds of media and is in much hype these days. We have received many emails from students to help them understand the matter in a simpler way. You might have read many articles or heard about this on various news portals but due to the complexity of what actually happened, or what is rumored to have happened many people find it difficult to understand. So to help all our readers to stay updated and to provide with a better insight into the matter on their demand, here we will discuss the details of what is the scandal all about in a simple and much understandable approach.

If you are wondering Why do you need to know about this stuff in the first place, just remember keeping a tab on current affairs can help you with your interview and exams. Also, there is a speculated angle on how citizens in India can be affected by this, which we have discussed at the end of this article.

To begin with this first you need to know Who all are the Key Players in this scandal? Cambridge Analytica (CA) is a British political consulting firm which combines data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication for the electoral process. Facebook the social media giant via which data on 50 million Facebook users got exposed to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the Trump campaign. Before there was Cambridge Analytica, there was the Strategic Communication Laboratories GroupSCL Group, for short. It is, basically, a messaging and PR firm that’s done work for governments, politicians, and militaries around the world. Christopher Wylie, a data scientist, is a former Cambridge Analytica employee turned whistleblower. Steve Bannon former White House Chief Strategist had deep ties to the embattled data firm, Cambridge Analytica. He helped found the data company and served as its vice president. Aleksandr Kogan, developer of facebook app "thisisyourdigitallife" actually was the one who collected all the data using this quiz app on facebook.

This is not the first time Cambridge Analytica has come under fire for a scandal, according to an article published in The Guardian during the Brexit referendum, a digital services firm linked to Cambridge Analytica received a £625,000 payment from a pro-Brexit campaign organisation which had been given the money by Vote Leave, potentially violating referendum spending rules.

Now comes the real question What actually happened? According to Christopher Wylie former Cambridge Analytica employee, the firm got data of around 50 million Facebook users through researcher Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian American who worked at the University of Cambridge. Aleksandr Kogan, in 2014 developed a personality-prediction app called "thisisyourdigitallife" that passed along personal data from 50 million Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica. This data was used to create targeted ads rumored to be tailored ads for the political campaign in the US. The Trump campaign began working with Cambridge Analytica in 2016. Trump even appointed Steve Bannon, a former vice president of Cambridge Analytica, his campaign’s chief executive.

Is your data safe with Facebook? Let's be clear if you put any personal information on Facebook, you can expect it to be harvested and used by Facebook and third parties. Every time you link an app or any account or device with your social media account let it be Google+, Twitter or Facebook the application asks you to grant permission to access your data which can be contacts, friends list, images, search data, cookies, geographical location etc. But, if you want to lock down what exactly can be collected, you should never grant irrelevant apps access to your Facebook account or information.

How are people in India concerned?

First, let us make it clear that Data in the Digital Age is a Currency especially for PR, Analytical firms, and Facebook. Through data, a company can analyze the like and dislikes, preferences of a person or users and then they show relevant advertisements according to a person's searches and preferences. This how Facebook earns big bucks and it is speculated that Google and Facebook bring in one-fifth of global digital advertisement revenue. Now the rumors are that somewhat similar to the US, even in India such Political Campaigns can start through this platform of social media possibly for 2019 elections as we all know India forms a large user base of Facebook and the company certainly have a huge data about Indian citizens. This data is the key to create psychological profiles and then if the data is compromised then even in India users can be targeted by showing tailored political advertisements that fit their psychological profiles. All of this although not directly but indirectly can manipulate a person's choice to vote for a certain party or candidate. But as of now, there are no certain claims that any such digital initiative is taking place in India, these are inferences from what happened or came under the radar in the US election campaign.

Facebook and Google are already associated with state governments in India in various projects related to digital initiatives like 'SheMeansBusiness' programme to train women entrepreneurs in Orissa; Facebook, offered to extend cooperation to the Government of Andhra Pradesh in providing Internet services to its people through the fiber grid; Google tied up with Railtel for railway station wi-fi access. This in future can create an ecosystem of co-dependence among governments and companies like Facebook and Google for data mining and business intelligence operations. 


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