The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal was a major political scandal in March of 2018. It was revealed that Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of millions of people’s Facebook profiles without their consent and used it for political purposes. I talked with Dan Patterson about the proprietary information that’s unknowingly being handed over and why companies must lock down their data. The following is an edited transcript of our interview.
Dan: We learned a lot about the way Facebook uses data, not just with Cambridge Analytica, but all last year Facebook was under fire, to the degree to which they started having monthly or semimonthly phone calls with reporters at news organizations like CBS News and others where they tried to downplay the impact of what we call influence impact. This is effectively what Cambridge Analytica led to, which is using data to target users on Facebook with particular messages.
What the Russians are alleged to have done in 2018, but there is a lot of evidence to support this, is they created what we call honeypots, which are private groups and pages that were seated with bots and fake accounts targeted at particular groups. These are groups that were on, at the time, the far right, although we should say that the left and liberals and democrats have used very similar tactics.
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But the Russians used this in 2016 to act as a magnet or a honeypot to attract voters of a particular sentiment. They then fed these groups with messages that would inflame the members of the group.
Now, the reason this is important is because these messages were finely tuned, or crafted, in a way that would resonate with people. It really doesn’t matter where it was on the right or the left or Russians or Americans or anyone else, to TechRepublic and ZDNet readers, what readers should really understand is that big data truly is the new oil. It powers almost everything we do, kind of like a silent engine, to mix metaphors a little bit.
So the data that is gathered or scraped from social networks like Facebook is compiled into spreadsheets that are pretty precise. For example, we have acquired some information here in news that you can acquire as well, almost anyone with access to a credit card and a data broker can acquire. Your phone number, your phone’s unique identifier, as well as every place that you tend to visit. Other identifiable information can be attached to your phone number.
Which means that you can be targeted with messages, and you can be targeted with messages that perhaps appear to be legitimate advertising. We all prefer a tailored or targeted message to something that is generic. That is not what this is, it is using the same tactics to send you what are, in effect, propaganda.
SEE: Cambridge Analytica: ‘We know what you want before you want it’ (TechRepublic)
Now, this can be used for all kinds of other things, this data can be used for all kinds of other purposes, like training AI algorithms, or designing other social networks. So the point of the Cambridge Analytica scandal was that we are giving so much proprietary information over to these massive companies who have not, at least by the information that we have, done an adequate job of protecting that data.
So, when it comes to, again, TechRepublic and ZDNet viewers and readers, many of you own and run businesses, I would urge caution and urge using encryption and other private pieces of software to make sure that your data is locked down and secure.