By Sarthak Agrawal
Cambridge Analytica is a data analytics and a political consulting company. It was started in 2014 as a subsidiary of the British company SCL group and was a means for them to participate in American politics. One of the key people involved in the forming of Cambridge Analytica is Steve Bannon, who had previously worked closely with Donald Trump, as his chief strategist. Steve Bannon was responsible for securing funding from American billionaire Robert Mercer. Robert Mercer and his family are well-known contributors and major donors in the right wing cause and the Republican party campaigns.
Exploiting Facebook user data
Cambridge Analytica got involved in a major controversy when an expose came to light that they had illegally accessed Facebook user data and used it to manipulate their on-screen page to manipulate their opinions and help in swaying political results.
In an interview with Chris Wylie, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, he revealed the operations and a few secrets of the company. According to Wylie, the company used a personality app designed by Cambridge University researcher, Aleksandr Kogan. This app was downloaded by a few people in the hundred thousand figures. While the number of downloads for the app wasnt alarming, the app could be used to access data of not only people using the app but also their Facebook friends. When you include the friends of these people, the number becomes alarmingly high. This data was used by the company to understand the opinions of the app users and then manipulate the content they saw on their Facebook walls. This could be used to target specific groups of people and sway their opinion the way they liked.
Possible meddling in US elections
Until this point, it just seemed like a case of illegal data extraction and slight manipulation here and there. Now, heres where it gets really interesting. Robert Mercer is a big donor to the Republican cause, who also happens to be a big shareholder in Cambridge Analytica. One of the co-founders of the company is Steve Bannon, who was the chief strategist of Donald Trump. Yes! Thats right. The serving President of the United States of America. The key words here will be, illegal data extraction, data manipulation, opinion swaying, US Presidential elections. The company is embroiled in a conspiracy of being responsible for manipulating the results of one of the most historic elections in US history. This election could have seen the first Female President of the United States of America.
This is a conspiracy with the highest level of security looking into it and with most of the information being kept classified. Kogan has been caught in the act. Mr Kogan claims that he was asked to make the app and was given assurances about the legality of their actions. He pleads innocence and claims that he is being used as a scapegoat by the real culprits behind the scenes. While this is a story that has the potential to change the course of human history and may someday have a movie made on it, it has also caught one of the most valuable companies on Earth in the fold.
SCL, CA and their partners have been involved in political campaigns around the world, even in India. SCL partnered up with Ovleno Business Intelligence Pvt. Ltd. In India. Ovleno claimed to have worked with BJP, Congress and the JDU.
Facebook has been heavily criticised for their stance on this issue. Reports started surfacing that they were aware of the data breaches by these third-party apps and yet, they didnt do anything or didnt do much about the situation. They asked Cambridge Analytica to delete all the data they extracted, but the data was not deleted. Their security was not strong enough to keep third-party applications from extracting and manipulating data and hence any users data is not safe. This has brought Facebook to receive heavy criticism from all over the globe.
After the entire fiasco was reported by BBC and New York Times, people started speaking up about the issue and the #deletefacebook movement started. People wanted to delete their Facebook accounts and were asking everyone else to follow suit. This movement received the support of heavyweights like Elon Musk. SpaceX also deleted their Facebook account. This movement picked up momentum after Brian Acton, co-founder of WhatsApp, tweeted #deletefacebook.
Whatsapp under scrutiny
Enter WhatsApp. Post the Manchester terror attacks, WhatsApp itself has come under scrutiny for being used by terrorists to avoid surveillance from authorities. The encryption provided by WhatsApp is meant to keep the messages and conversations private, but this feature was being taken advantage of by terrorist and other military groups.
While WhatsApp has been under fire, Brian Acton has openly supported the #deletefacebook movement. The movement has been responsible for bringing down the valuation of Facebook by about 9 percent on a single day and ended up losing $75 billion dollar valuation over the course of the incident. Mark Zuckerbergs net worth came down by $6 billion on the same day.
Mark Zuckerberg was asked to be present at a hearing of the House of Commons parliamentary committee to answer their questions on Cambridge Analyticas data usage. He will be asked to appear before U.S Congress and the European Parliament as well.