Over the last few weeks, Mark Zuckerberg has gotten into hot water by admitting that Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to have access to personal data from 50 million Facebook profiles. It was without consent, obviously, and it has been linked to the last presidential election. To put it bluntly, Facebook policy allowed for the collection of information by academic sources. The problem was that Cambridge Analytica wasn’t an academic source, and no one at Facebook seemed to notice (or care). There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s the basic gist of what happened. Mark Zuckerberg apologized, took out full-page ads in newspapers both in the United States and Great Britain, and at the time of me writing this, that’s kind of where we stand.
But I’m not really here to talk about Cambridge Analytica or even Zuckerberg for that matter. I’m here to ask a question: are we even surprised this happened?
We live in a time where everyone has a social footprint on the internet. If you commit a crime, your deleted searches can still be recovered. If you post something online one time, it is forever there in the depths of the underworld of a combination of zeroes and ones. So is it at all surprising that a firm like Cambridge Analytica figured out a way to bend Facebook policies to obtain information?
Facebook is the largest social media platform. It’s changed the way we interact with our friends and with the outside world. It has so much information that we can’t even comprehend the type of data it holds behind its Silicon Valley doors. My personal opinion is that when you put something on the internet, even on your private Facebook page, you should ultimately accept the idea that whatever information you’re providing could possibly maybe one day land in the hands of someone else.
There are some things you’re told to never give out: your social security number, your credit card information. While you might use a credit card to checkout on Amazon, I can almost guarantee that you would never post either your SSN or credit card number on Facebook. Why? Because (say it louder for the people in the back!) it’s the largest social media platform in the world. You don’t know what kind of people are lurking on your page, and ultimately you know in the depths of your soul that it’s probably not the most secure place online.
Don’t get me wrong here. The collection of data from 50 million people is not okay. Especially if it was used to alter the way a political election was being conducted. But as the internet and social media evolves, I think this is something that is going to be happening more and more. People will always break policy or try to find a way around it. There will forever be loopholes and CEOs saying, “But I didn’t know this happened.” We shouldn’t accept it as commonplace, but maybe we should see this particular instance as a learning experience for Facebook and cut Zuck some slack.
Bad people will always do bad things. Unfortunately, this time the bad people used data from 50 million people. It’s a big mistake by Facebook, but I believe it’s an honest one where they really believed that Cambridge Analytica was an academic institution exercising their right to collect and use data from the platform. Should they have looked into it to be 100% sure? Yeah, definitely. Did they? No. Should we move on and still post photos of cats, while also accepting the fact that this is the internet and bad people exist there and things like this happen from time to time and we should just be careful with what we’re putting out there? Absolutely.