The news media is reporting the details around the data-mining of Facebook by the company Cambridge Analytica. It was reported this week that data was provided to the Trump campaign. Much of the reporting is being reported in a historical vacuum, with reporters forgetting that the Obama campaign in 2012 pioneered the practice. Another little known fact is that Cambridge Analytica obtained the information from a Facebook partner who had Facebook’s permission to obtain the data on users.
At the heart of the controversy is online privacy and election interference.
The London, England-based business is accused of having obtained personal data from approximately 50 million Facebook accounts and having used it to help the Trump campaign win the election.
According to reports, Facebook gave University of Cambridge Professor Aleksandr Kogan access to these accounts via a survey he created for the social media site.
From there, Kogan handed the data he had on Facebook profiles to Analytica, which then used the information to supposedly help the Trump campaign better target voters on the site much the same way Facebook uses information to provide users with targeted advertising.
As the controversy over the apparent breach of privacy and potential legal action is being considered, here are seven things to know about the scandal. Bur first, keep in mind that when you agree to use Facebook, Google, Twitter or any other social media platform, you are giving away your privacy rights to third-party businesses who purchase information from those platforms.
1. Obama Campaign Also Mined Data From Facebook
During the 2012 presidential election season, President Barack Obama’s campaign mined a great deal of personal data from Facebook, according to a former campaign official.
Carol Davidsen, former director of integration and media analytics for Obama for America, stated in a series of posts on Twitter that back in 2012 the Democratic campaign used data from Facebook.
“Facebook was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn’t stop us once they realized that was what we were doing,” tweeted Davidsen, as quoted by the Independent Journal Review.
“They came to office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.”
Another campaign official is recorded as having said it was the greatest mining operation of consumer data ever attempted and the campaign “ingested it all.”
2. The Ted Cruz Campaign Used the Data in 2015
Although Cambridge Analytica’s mining of Facebook profile data has been tied to Donald Trump’s campaign, a different Republican presidential hopeful first received access back in 2015.
A 2015 Guardian article noted that the presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas had used the mined Facebook data, with the publication referring to Analytica as being “embedded within Cruz’s campaign.”
“Cruz has turned to Cambridge Analytica for its unparalleled offering of psychological data based on a treasure trove of Facebook ‘likes,’ allowing it to match individuals’ traits with existing voter datasets, such as who owned a gun,” reported the Guardian in Dec. 2015.
“Analysis of Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings shows Cruz’s campaign has paid Cambridge Analytica at least $750,000 this year.”
In a statement released Tuesday by a spokesperson, Cruz’s office said that the usage of the data was legal and that “all data used by them were obtained legally.”
3. Cambridge Analytica Has Ties to Influential Republicans
While its website describes itself as a “non-partisan organization,” Cambridge Analytica has ties to influential Republicans, including major rightwing billionaire funder Robert Mercer.
“Libertarian billionaire Robert Mercer holds an ownership stake in Cambridge Analytica and late last year sold his shares in Breitbart to his daughter Rebekah,” reported Newsweek.
Steve Bannon, former White House adviser under the Trump administration and head of Breitbart, sat on Analytica’s board from 2014-2016, according to the Guardian.
4. Cambridge Analytica’s Alleged Russian Ties
On multiple occasions, members of Cambridge Analytica have met with executives of a Russian oil company, allegedly in order to figure out ways in which to sway American and voters in other countries.
A recent New York Times story alleges that Analytica met with representatives from Lukoil in 2014 and 2015 and noted before it was before Donald Trump even filed to run for president.
5. The Hidden Video of Cambridge Analytica Executives Explaining Unlawful Practices
Earlier this week, the London-based Channel 4 News released a hidden camera interview with senior executives of Cambridge Analytica apparently admitting to entrapping politicians with bribes.
“An undercover investigation by Channel 4 News reveals how Cambridge Analytica secretly campaigns in elections across the world. Bosses were filmed talking about using bribes, ex-spies, fake IDs and sex workers,” reported Channel 4.
For their part, Analytica has denied the veracity of the video, claiming it was “edited and scripted to grossly misrepresent the nature of those conversations and how the company conducts its business.”
6. Facebook Has Cut Ties
In response to the news over the data mining, Facebook opted to suspend Cambridge Analytica from its service, stating that the company misused the data it took from the social media site.
“The social networking giant said it learned several days ago that Cambridge Analytica, a firm that among other things helps target political messages to people online, had misused data about Facebook users,” reported cnet.com last Saturday.
Facebook said in a statement released Monday that they were still investigating the extent to which the data may have been used by Analytica.
Facebook has not, however, commented on its willinness to work with the 2012 Obama campaign in which it provided the campaign with information on its users that makes the Analytica info pale in comparison.
7. Experts Doubt It Impacted the Election Results
Although the data mining has garnered a good deal of attention, some experts have stated that Cambridge Analytica’s actions likely did little to sway the 2016 election. It may have had a much greater impact on behalf of helping Barack Obama’s election as social meida was in its infancy and privacy rules were much looser.
“Data analytics are important part of modern campaign. But, just one part,” tweeted Cook Political Report National Editor Amy Walter on Monday.
“Most important are candidate quality and salient message. The best algorithms or ‘psychological mapping’ can’t make up for bad candidates and bad message.”
Dartmouth political science professor Brendan Nyhan also took to Twitter to express doubts, while also stating that there needed to be an investigation.
“No credible studies show effects on vote choice to my knowledge,” tweeted Nyhan, having also written a New York Times column expanding on the point.
“No one’s saying that CA isn’t shady. They are! Let’s investigate! But we should also call BS on unsupported claims that it won the election for Trump using magic voodoo Facebook persuasion. Both can be true!”
–CPNews and additional reporting by news services.