The great Cambridge Analytica/Facebook roundup
This week may well turn out to be a defining, watershed moment for Facebook and for the social media industry as a whole.
As you might have heard, these past few days have seen Facebook get in very hot water because of how an outfit called Cambridge Analytica collected and used its data. Most of the information that is coming out is not news among people who study social media, but circumstances are creating a perfect storm.
Since the story is still developing, and the number of takes is growing by the minute, we decided to put together a roundup of some interesting, often opposing perspectives and viewpoints, which we hope will help you make sense of this story.
Let’s dive in (updated 3/22):
- If you haven’t already, you should start by reading the Guardian reportage that started it all: an interview with the former Cambridge Analytica employee who “built Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool” out of Facebook (from now on, “FB”) data
- And the (parallel) New York Times story.
- UK authorities are investigating, as is Massachusetts’ Attorney General, the FTC, and everybody else.
- The CEO of Cambridge Analytica was filmed boasting about unethical practices to undercover reporters – although he says it was just “playing along.”
- And it turns out, it wasn’t just Cambridge Analytica…
- After three days, Zuck speaks! As well as using FB, he’s given interviews to the New York Times, CNN, Wired and Recode.
Ok, now show me some of those hot Twitter takes..
- Tech news editor: what Cambridge Analytica (from now on “CA”) was doing should not surprise us: it is an example of FB being used exactly as intended
- Tech and society academic: the problem is not CA. It’s surveillance capitalism as a business model
- Former FB employee: it’s no big deal, CA are not that good anyway and please stop glamorizing them
- No, really, these CA people might not be the sharpest after all
- No, really, CA’s service was useless, except for extracting money from Ted Cruz and Trump’s campaigns
- We can’t expect social media platforms to self regulate, and our only hope is legislation like GDPR
- This kind of public and voter manipulation did not just happen in the US/UK: it was possibly much worse elsewhere.
- An idea to fix this problem: social networks should retain personal data for 30 days max
- Zuck hasn’t actually said sorry has he?
- And people are taking Facebook’s words with a pinch of salt anyway because they’re becoming formulaic
- Wylie the whistleblower’s style, though
- This is FB’s biggest test, ever, and its leadership is failing to address it
- Also, FB’s new company strategy to focus on private groups “as a key source of valuable engagement” might not work out in the company’s favor
- You should just go ahead and delete FB…
- But actually many people in the developing world can’t afford to do that
- And nevermind anyway, FB profiles non-users too
- You know what, let’s just all move to Linkedin already
- Everyone’s busy changing their privacy settings on social. Why do we tell them so much anyway?
The Stamos saga…
- FB’s Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos, a widely respected figure, and one of the most vocal public advocates for Facebook’s decisions over the past year: please don’t call it a breach!
- But now Stamos is said to be leaving the company, or maybe not?
- Stamos had been investigating Russian activity on Facebook since June 2016: that month Zuckerberg said fake news influencing the election was a “pretty crazy idea.”
- The Parsons/New School prof who has been on CA’s case for months, suing its parent company (SCL) to get his personal data back from them
- Facebook has a history of being lax with app permissions (and thus with the data it shares with third parties)
- Former Googler: programmers building these tools and then blowing the whistle shows us that computer science as a discipline science needs an ethical awakening
- The sinister side of targeting: why access to data is more important than access to the mind
But what about the research…
- Scholars have been sounding the alarm about data harvesting for a decade: what took FB so long?
- One way to fix this: give researchers access to more, not less, data
- Our very own Francesco on how FB had excellent APIs with “privacy by design, best balance of safety for the user and value for the researcher” but recently shut them down
- But FB is currently in a bind: it’s damned if it does (lock down APIs), and damned if it doesn’t
- And let’s not jump to synonymize Cambridge Analytica with election-fixing, its methods might not even work