What Does Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica Data Breach Mean for Users and Advertisers in the Future?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard all about the Cambridge Data Analytica Scandal, and watched as Twitter users were not kind to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg or the Senators questioning him during the two day Congressional Testimonial. Over the last few years, Facebook has been saturated with a myriad of accusations – from showing huge discrepancies between their own in-house measurements in comparison to outside information when it comes to advertising metrics, to serving as a platform for Russian nationals to influence the results of the 2016 Presidential Elections. It’s no secret that Facebook is facing significant problems when it comes to the circulation of fake news, and what they and third parties are doing with the data they are collecting from its users. But what is the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, and how has Zuckerberg’s Congressional Testimonial affected Facebook? What does this mean for advertisers and users moving forward? Here’s everything you need to know. (Check out the impact fake news has on SEO).

Cambridge Analytica Facebook scandal
Mark Zuckerberg during the Congressional Testimonial April 2018

What is the Cambridge Analytica Scandal? 

In March 2018 the former Director of Research at Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie gave The Guardian documents highlighting Cambridge Analytica’s unauthorised possession of personal and private data from over 87 million Facebook accounts, that they had been collecting since as early as 2014. The documents suggest that this unauthorised data was obtained in order to create targeted political campaigns based on the psychological and personality information mined from the data, during the 2016 Presidential Elections in USA.

Christopher Wylie gave evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in the UK on March 27th 2018, revealing more about the practices at Cambridge Analytica and their associated companies. These revelations triggered government investigations across the globe, and ignited the once suppressed debate regarding data collection and privacy. Wylie admitted that he worked with a Cambridge University academic and “exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.” (The Guardian)

How did Cambridge Analytica obtain the data through Facebook?

Cambridge Analytica obtained this data via a Facebook-linked app named ‘thisisyourdigitallife‘. It’s alleged that through the app, Cambridge Analytica colleague Aleksandr Kogan paid Facebook users in exchange for a detailed personality test, under the guise of academic research purposes. Thisisyourdigitallife also pulled personal data from all of the quiz-taker’s linked Facebook friends without their consent which was a breach of Facebook’s Data Policy. The policy stated that data can only be used to enhance the in-app experience, and giving it out to anyone else is a violation of their Data Policy.

How has Cambridge Analytica Impacted Facebook? 

  • The US Government is officially investigating Facebook.
  • After the Data Breach Scandal was revealed, stock prices fell by 14%.
  • A study by Top10VPN stated that searches for ‘delete Facebook’ had risen by 101% in the UK compared to last month.
  • According to HubSpot, 14% of people deleted their Facebook profiles after news of the data breach broke.


What is Facebook doing in response to Cambridge Analytica? 

  • An apology was issued by CEO Zuckerberg.
  • Facebook made it easier to delete data by updating their privacy controls.
  • Centralised controls for settings on mobile will be rolled out.
  • New privacy shortcuts makes it much easier for Facebook users to delete and review their data.
  • Facebook Ads Custom Audience Reach Estimates have been temporarily removed so that Facebook can fix a technical issue that “could potentially allow misuse of the functionality.”
  • Facebook is going to remove the ability to use Partner Categories, a targeting solution allowing third-party data providers to offer their targeting directly on Facebook.


Cambridge Analytica

What does the Facebook Data Scandal mean for its Advertisers and Users? 

Before news of the Cambridge Analytica data breach broke, the public already had a relatively low opinion of Facebook – a study by Sensor Tower revealed that before the whistle was blown, sentiment about Facebook was 83% negative and there were more than 2.2 billion monthly active users.  This suggests that the #DeleteFacebook movement sparked debate, but didn’t have that much of an impact in terms of users leaving. The majority of Facebook users have had their profile for just under a decade, and its use has become habitual.  Alongside this, if advertisers were going to leave Facebook, they would have left when the discrepancy in Facebook’s reporting metrics were revealed.

However, we should expect to see Facebook crack down on the data provided to advertisers and restrict legitimate apps from collating data as well as what they can do with that data. What is really interesting is that even though Instagram is owned by Facebook, this platform has seen very little backlash.

Alongside this, as of January 2018 even though Facebook usage was down, Facebook Ad Sales were on the rise. We won’t see the full impact of the Cambridge Analytica Breach and GDPR until much later on, but we’ll certainly keep an eye out. Advertisers seem to be more concerned about the data side of this issue rather than how many users are leaving Facebook, so they’re waiting to see if Facebook’s new data protections regulations will impact their campaigns before they make any rash decisions regarding their social media strategies.

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