Why its important to understand the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica fiasco

Unless you have been living under a (digital) rock, you would have heard about the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook incident. As individuals, we woke up to the new era of cyber crime. People aren’t calling it a ‘crime’ yet as they don’t know how it is affecting them as individuals. As a digital marketer, our first question was if this was going to snowball into something much bigger affecting our professional lives. After all, Facebook has one of the most effective marketing tools in the industry and also has Instagram and Whatsapp under its belt. If it changes its rules, it affects us all.

Let’s not have any misinterpretation here. There has been no breach of data. It wasn’t ‘stolen’ either. Facebook, at that point, legally allowed people to mine this data for their profits. To companies like Google and Facebook, we, the people, are their biggest commodity and currency. At some point, they ‘sold’ us like cattle to the people who had the programming skills to seek us out.

As they say, “If you are not buying the product, YOU are the product.”

The problem is there are many missing links that don’t allow us to fully decode the problem. Why did Facebook knowingly allow something like this to happen? To what extent does Facebook really know about us?

What data do they reveal and what do they hide?

Here’s a quick video on finding out what Facebook knows about you and how you can change settings


But that only reveals what Facebook is willing to disclose to us. There is a lot more going on behind the screens that we don’t know about. Did you know that the algorithm can make an educated guess about things like your ethnicity, religious and political views, personality traits, intelligence, happiness, use of addictive substances, parental separation, age and gender – all just from your Facebook likes! The facial recognition algorithm may detect everything from sexual orientation to protesters even if their faces are partially concealed. It’s just scary to know that Facebook knows more about you than probably anyone else in the world. All those years of likes and shares and friendships and photos are all there – accessible to the highest bidder!

Have a look at this TED video

According to the latest reports, Analytica has received a notice to disclose its activity in India. The notice not only demands this information but also threatens grand scale action, if any illegal activity is found. On the other hand, brands from India like Nestle and ITC who heavily rely on Facebook advertising are writing to Facebook if their position as a brand has been compromised by this breach.

The whole activity comes as a wake-up call to all of us. We’ve been pegging machine learning and artificial intelligence as the next best thing happening to us. But will it come at the cost of our freedom?

Will it come with the caveat of third-party companies knowing the most intimate details of our lives so that they can market to us?

There are people in the seats of power, using data to know us, judge us and nudge us to make decisions about not just products but about life in general.

Ajit Ranade writes in his Mumbai Mirror column about the research from Stanford and Cambridge Universities who have created a forecasting model based on our Facebook likes. Just 150 likes data is enough for them to know more about you than your family. 300 likes they probably know more about you than your spouse.

As digital marketers, we’ve often resorted to collecting this data for accurate ad targeting. For example, in a recent campaign, we could target students of a particular college doing a particular course and having specific interests. To some extent, people have been surprised by how accurate the targeting has been. But the surprise is slowly turning to shock knowing how much of your digital personality hangs out there for someone to manipulate you. If your Facebook data is merged with your shopping and financial data, credit history, political preferences and personal biases, will there be anything stopping a clever manipulator to directly manipulate you from your very own phone screen without you even knowing it?

The topic is far from over. In fact, what we’ve uncovered is just the tip of the Zuckerberg. If there are implications, these will affect our professional lives for sure. Here’s hoping that it is another step in creating a positive digital economy.


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