Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Cambridge Analytica scandal isn’t a scandal, it’s a business model

Cambridge Analytica recently closed down following a joint investigation from Channel 4 and The Observer which exposed that the company had been collecting Facebook user data without consent and targeting messages during the 2016 European Union referendum.

Since then, founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg has faced questions from the US Senate; which mostly consisted of people who barely knew what they were talking about, piecing together semi-literate, broad questions which were mostly irrelevant. And, the EU Parliament; which entailed 75 minutes’ worth of very specific and nuanced questions followed by Zuckerberg speaking vaguely about general themes that came up, rendering both of these sessions rather pointless. Facebook needs proper scrutiny and despite what Zuckerberg thinks, the technology industry cannot regulate itself. This is evident by the fact that the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal was not caused because Facebook enabled it - rather, it was caused because they encouraged it.

Facebook’s business model is rooted in the notion that companies pay to target adverts based on user data that Facebook has collected. Despite what many might think, the customers aren’t the users, the customers are the organisations and businesses willing to pay for user data. What Cambridge Analytica did was simply an extension of this; they found a loophole.

Let's be clear, targeting political adverts based on user behaviour and interests is not illegal. If it was, Facebook would not be the tech behemoth it is today. They’ve been reasonably transparent about this too as they state exactly what data they collect and how they use it in their Privacy Policy.

Critics enjoy pointing that this is unethical as nobody reads privacy policies because they are too long - as The Wall Street journal pointed out, revised and condensed policies from 30 of the top apps still span the length of an American football field. They could shorten these policies however realistically, unless the whole policy can be summarised in less than 100 words, it is very unlikely that the majority of users are going to read it; a task that would be virtually impossible.

Facebook collecting data and aggregating it for advertising use is how they make their money. Yes, Cambridge Analytica went above and beyond to exploit this but ultimately, it’s not too different from any Facebook targeted advertising.