Just over a single day, Mark Zuckerberg had over $9 billion of his personal wealth wiped off. Gone. Just like that. It's mainly because Facebook's stock price is down over ten percent since last Friday, the biggest drop it has faced since going public.
If you're wondering why Zuckerberg and Facebook are losing money, it's because the social media website which has over 2 billion active users around the world is facing its greatest existential crisis yet.
Last week, the entirety of the United States was in an uproar thanks to two names; Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. You may have also come across the #DeleteFacebook posts on Twitter or elsewhere, too.
Well, that's because Facebook's caught at the centre of a controversy that began with a hidden data breach (yes, it was allegedly hacked several years ago) and the role its social platform played during the 2016 US Presidential Election. Also under scrutiny is how Facebook allows third-party developers to harvest user data, raising important questions on data privacy in an increasingly digital world.
In 2014, voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica had just received a $15 million financial investment from a Republican backer, and were tasked with unraveling the personalities of voters and influencing them to support Ted Cruz’s White House run in 2016. The problem was, it didn’t have the data to feed into its fancy tools. So it allegedly yanked the data from Facebook.
The firm reportedly harvested data from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users, without their consent, using sketchy online surveys and a personality quiz. Volunteers took these surveys, and had to link to Facebook before they could see the results. The problem is, it wasn’t just their Facebook data the company was recording, it was also gleaning information from each of their friends on the network.
You’ll also realise, nowhere have we said the firm “stole” user data. Well, that’s because Facebook’s policies are incredibly porous, and Cambridge Analytica, it could be argued, was not breaking any rules. Whatever data you put on Facebook for your friend to see, any other developer that links to Facebook can also see -- to some degree.
Cambridge Analytica’s main purpose was identifying voter’s and how to influence them to vote one way or the other. The firm’s CEO Alexander Nix called it OCEAN — the five personality trait measurements of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Studies have shown that, from just analysing a person’s likes, it’s possible to predict a person’s race with 95 percent accuracy, and political affiliation with 85 percent accuracy.
Experts still disagree on how this could ever be used to sway a voter but Cambridge Analytica has its own claims. They were attempting to control voters with “microtargeting,” basically making personality profiles for voters fitting certain OCEAN criteria and then feeding them tailor-made content. Neurotic voters can be influenced using “rational and fear-based” arguments Nix has said, while introverted voters are more likely to respond to “tradition and habits and family and community.”