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Cambridge Analytica Scandal: The largest known data leak in Facebook history

What is Cambridge Analytica Scandal?

Cambridge Analytica, a data harvesting company based in London, United Kingdom was responsible for inappropriately collecting Facebook data of millions of internet users since 2014. This was the largest known data leak in Facebook history where personal information and other data of approximately 87 million Facebook profiles were breached.

What happened to the data acquired by Cambridge Analytica from Facebook?

All the personally identifiable information of approximately 87 million users collected by Cambridge Analytica was used to psychologically influence the opinion of American voters to cast their votes for a specific political party during the run for 45th American president. This method of manipulating user opinions psychologically is known as “psychographic targeting”. A Soviet-born American researcher Aleksandr Kogan who has been alleged of selling private messages of Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica firm through his Facebook app “This is Your Digital Life” has shed a new twist to the scandal. Kogan is believed to have violated his app’s terms and conditions by specifically collecting user data on Facebook for commercial use.

How was the data of Facebook users leaked?

The personal data of Facebook users was extracted using a third-party app on Facebook called “This is Your Digital Life”. The app developed by Soviet born American researcher Aleksandr Kogan was used to collect user data through online surveys on Facebook and was later harvested for commercial use. The data collected from Facebook by Kogan was sold to a British data harvesting firm named Cambridge Analytica for commercial use.

What is data harvesting and how can such data leaks affect you?

Data harvesting is a process where a small computer generated script is used to collect data of large number of users from websites and use it for various other purposes. The main method of data harvesting is targeting databases to pull out personal data of users and members on websites. British firm Cambridge Analytica harvested data of around 87 million Facebook users since 2014 which is considered a major breach of privacy for online users. The data harvested was later used to psychologically target users and consumers to manipulate their opinions in a specific way.

Data leak can affect the privacy of a person as the personal and financial details of users may land up in the wrong hands who can in-turn blackmail a user or sell off their data to various marketing and other companies who could manipulate the choices made by the user.

Mark Zuckerberg testimony: Facebook CEO grilled by the Congress

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on 11th April was grilled by lawmakers in Washington post the outrage regarding the largest known data leak in Facebook history. Zuckerberg was questioned for five long hours by the committee regarding his company’s multiple data privacy issues and repeated apologies. Mark was repeatedly interrupted during his hearing when lawmakers thought that he was giving evasive answers to their questions. His first hearing was on 10th April where the senate was gentle on him regarding their questions.

How to know if your Facebook data has been compromised to Cambridge Analytica?

Facebook after being entangled in this massive data breach scandal has now published a method which you can use to check if your Facebook profile has been compromised to Cambridge Analytica. Follow these simple steps to know if your personal data has been breached:

1.       Go to www.facebook.com/help

2.       In the search box type in “Cambridge Analytica”

3.       In the search results, click “How can I tell if my information was shared with Cambridge Analytica”

4.       The link will lead you to a page that will let you know if your personal data was leaked to Cambridge Analytica.

All these data breaches in recent years have significantly pointed out the risks of data privacy for all online users like us and it is time that new regulations should be put up for collecting data, artificial intelligence and online organisations to protect the interests and privacy of all the online users throughout the globe.

About the author

Ankur Kalita