Understanding The Emerging Data Scandal
Oleh: Patricia Christabel Jovita Toha
Staff Kajian Departemen dan Aksi Strategis
BEM FEB UI 2018
“I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here”
– Mark Zuckerberg while testifying before the Congress on Tuesday, April 10 2018
Facebook is rarely discussed nowadays, mainly because most of us do not use the platform anymore. However, since last week, the social media giant somehow reemerges—although not in a good way.
Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook started out as a ‘hot or not’ website for Harvard students, and was later developed to connect people around the university. Now it has evolved even further to connect people globally. Facebook can now be seen as the most popular social media—the first to surpass 1 billion registered accounts and a total of 2 billion active users (as of January 2018). Even though the usage of Facebook around our peers seemingly declines, surely the worldwide trend hasn’t declined, yet.
What happened to Facebook?
In June 2014, a UK based academic and researcher Aleksandr Kogan developed a personality-quiz app for Facebook called ‘thisisyourdigitallife’. This app was influenced by a similar personality-quiz app created by the Psychometrics Center, a Cambridge University lab where Kogan worked. 300,000 quizzes were sent by Kogan and about 270,000 Facebook users took the quiz. The respondents had to log in to their Facebook accounts in order to take the quiz, and by logging in to their Facebook profiles, Kogan had access to their personal data including their birth date, location, and most importantly Facebook likes. Facebook likes were important because they represented preferences of the users, especially political preferences to target users with political messaging. In addition, Kogan even attained the personal data of the respondents’ friends. When Kogan’s application asked for the data, it didn’t promptly delete the data but instead saved it into Kogan’s private database and sent it to Cambridge Analytica—a UK-based political, data analytics, advertising, and consulting firm. About 87 million users’ data were ‘harvested’ by Kogan (the amount of data is a combination between the respondent’s data and the data of the respondents’ friends)
Cambridge Analytica also utilized its ‘psychographic profiles’ tools to make targeted online ads for the “Brexit” leave campaign; Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign; and Trump’s presidential campaign in the same year. Mark Turnbull, the managing director of Cambridge Analytica, said that the company was also responsible for the video campaign on Facebook titled “Defeat Crooked Hillary”.
All of a sudden, Christopher Wylie—a 28-year-old whistleblower on Cambridge Analytica—made a surprising revelation. His revelation was about how the data of millions of users ended up being given to Cambridge Analytica, This was published in The Guardian and The New York Times. He affirmed that the data sold to Cambridge Analytica was then used to develop “psychographic” profiles of people and deliver pro-Trump material to them online. However, Cambridge Analytica has denied that any of Kogan’s data was used in connection to the Trump campaign.
Facebook is currently facing consequences because of the surfacing data scandal. Apparently, the privacy crisis has turned into a shareholder crisis. Since the surprising revelation, Facebook’s stocks have dropped 18%, wiping out about $80 billion from its market value. Furthermore, Zuckerberg’s net value also fell by nearly $14 billion.
The data scandal seemingly had a domino effect—it affected other social media firms as well. Investors are worried that Facebook, Twitter, and Google would face tougher regulation in the United States or even around the world because of this controversial issue. Another thing that worries investors is that users might flee these social media because of privacy concern. If the users flee, the number of active users might nosedive—advertisers may jump ship as well.
The number of Facebook’s active users are starting to decrease. There are several high-profiled users that quit Facebook amid the scandal. Recently, the co-founder of Apple Steve Wozniak has deactivated his Facebook account—joining Cher, Elon Musk, Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, Rosie O’Donnell. A few firms, including Pep Boys, Sonos, and Mozilla, announced they would temporarily stop using or advertising on Facebook but stopped short of joining the #DeleteFacebook movement.
We live in a generation where social media plays a vital role in our daily life. However, there are a few things that need to be emphasized from this scandal.
A movement that was mentioned earlier called #DeleteFacebook emerged moments after the data scandal revelation. But, can you imagine how real this movement is? Even though there are famous people who joined this movement, that does not mean that the majority of Facebook users are deleting Facebook. Why? Because so far, there is no social media platform that can replace Facebook and its functions. Through Facebook, people can share their thoughts, connect with their friends with ease, build online communities, start an online business—so many things in just a platform. Furthermore, Facebook is embedded within a vast web of interconnected social media platforms. This means that several apps or webs require users to have a Facebook account before they can use the app.
Fleig, Shelby.(2018). These high Profile Users Quitting Facebook. (Accessed from: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/talkingtech/2018/04/11/these-high-profile-users-quitting-facebook/503730002/)
Meredith, Sam. (2018). Facebook-Cambridge Analytica: A Timeline of The Data Hijacking Scandal. (Accessed from :https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/10/facebook-cambridge-analytica-a-timeline-of-the-data-hijacking-scandal.html)
Meyer, Robinson.(2018). The Cambridge Analytica Scandal in Three Paragraphs. (Accessed from: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/03/the-cambridge-analytica-scandal-in-three-paragraphs/556046/)
 Statista. (2018). Global Social Networks Ranked by Number of Users. Accessed from https://www.statista.com/statistics/272014/global-social-networks-ranked-by-number-of-users/
 Psychographic profiling divides a market into various segments based on personality traits, value, and interests.
 La Monica, Paul R.(2018). Facebook has lost $80 billion in market value since its data scandal. Accessed from http://money.cnn.com/2018/03/27/news/companies/facebook-stock-zuckerberg/index.html