Well you’ve heard all about it by now… The scandal involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica has made quite some noise within media the last week.
What I actually finds interesting is that it really is quite old news. I mean, the discussions started already around the US primary presidential election. It came up again when it turned out that the leave-side in the Brexit referendum seemed to have used pretty much the same methods.
So – which methods am I referring to?
If you’re browsing Facebook on even rare occasions you’ve most probably seen them. The posts from your friends where they have set up a quiz about themselves. Or answered one set up by another friend. Or took a “test” to see how they would look like then they’re old, which moviestar they look like and so on.
Pretty harmless stuff, now isn’t it? Even if the one who take the quiz’s realize that one gives out personal information at that point, what’s the harm? Since one post information on Facebook one would actually like to make that information public, right?
Unfortunately it’s not that simple. The engines behind all these fenomens are Facebook Apps. So, whenever the App gets to work it will ask you as the user for some permissions. And let’s face the fact: No one really reflects or even read the statement of which rights the App are asking you to permit. The App developer has in most of the cases then asked for full set of permissions (even to post as yourself since it has to post the result’s) – and a vast majority of the users accepts.
Now it starts to get a little scary… What the App starts to to in the background is to harvest information about you. Which pages and people do you follow and like? Which posts have you reacted upon and how? Who are your friends? Have you set any political view and what is it? And much more – pretty much everything.
All of this information is then uploaded somewhere else and then gets processed. It’s a process called “profiling” where the intention is to get a view of exactly who you are and furthermore your political views. All this information is then saved in huge databases for further use…
Let’s now say that the company, such as Cambridge Analytica, gets a project where they are supposed to help an organisation to achieve their goals. For example achievements in an election or referendum. For the sake of discussion we’re assuming this scenario: It’s for a right-wing populist political party that wants to win votes in an upcoming election. They approach (or get approached by) the company who has their huge databases with information that we, the masses, one way or another has provided.
Obviously, they are not really interested in the already convinced voters but would rather like to get the votes from the ones that aren’t 100% convinced yet (in their direction or another direction) but would like to put their focus on the ones standing somewhere in between. And they do know exactly which these individuals are from their profiling information.
So – let’s get to work and have you react. There are huge troll factories in various parts of the world, that’s well-known. They’re focusing on spreading news and propaganda that have more or less amounts of truth within. These are profiled as well, and if you’re one of the targeted you will then pretty subtle see these in your flow as suggested pages and articles. What kind of posts you’ll get to see depends on your profile – what have you previously reacted on and how? The aim is to get you to react over and over again on posts, having you believe that you really should vote on “the good guys” who have the ability to solve what you think is bad in the society.
Will it work? Sure it will! Why..? Because humans are in this sense pretty simple and well-known for being controlled by emotions. Not really a flaw, it’s all just about genetics and evolution…
So – what to do next?
- Obviously – stop (if you have been) taking these kinds of Facebook quiz’s.
- Remove the rights of Apps from your Facebook profile
- Log on to Facebook
- Go to Settings and then Apps
- Audit your Apps who has access, remove the ones you really don’t need to have access
- You can also edit the rights of individual Apps from there, for the ones you believe should be there
Be safe – and if you’re not already doing it you really need to question who you trust your personal information with.