Apple CEO Tim Cook is the latest prominent personality to criticize Facebook in wake of the data mining controversy.
This follows the revelation that Trump-affiliated data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica exploited personal user data from Facebook.
Cambridge Analytica is a private company founded in 2013. It uses data mining (processes that extract patterns and knowledge from big data), and data analysis “to change audience behaviour”. Alexander Nix is the Chief Executive of the company. Other names linked to Cambridge Analytica include Robert Mercer, conservative American billionaire, and Steve Bannon, former White House Chief Strategist for President Trump.
Based out of London, the company has offices in the United States, Brazil, and Malaysia. Cambridge Analytica was revealed to have partnered with Ted Cruz and Donald Trump’s election campaigns. According to records, the Trump campaign paid the firm over $6 million.
In May 2017 it was reported that Facebook was a key influencer in the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential election and the Brexit vote. Those in charge of these digital campaigns believe that the social network was decisive in both wins. Last September, Facebook admitted to finding approximately $100,000 worth of ads connected to Russia. Russia allegedly played a role in flooding social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter with fake news stories depicting Hillary Clinton negatively. In recent years, social media in general has come under scrutiny for hate and terrorist propaganda, influence campaigns, the presence of bots, and the proliferation of “fake news” ahead of elections.
In March 2018, scandal erupted when media reported that Cambridge Analytica used personal information acquired from Facebook, without users' permission. It emerged that the personal data of millions of users was not only breached but used to create psychological profiles that could be manipulated.
An external researcher was able to gain access to the information on behalf of Cambridge Analytica by noting it was for academic purposes. In response, Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica from advertising on its platform. The Guardian further reported that Facebook had known about this security breach for two years but had done nothing to protect its users.
Since the scandal came to light, the value of Facebook shares has dramatically dropped and the hashtag #DeleteFacebook has begun trending on other social media channels such as Twitter. WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton is among the prominent voices that piped in to note, “It’s time. #DeleteFacebook.” Acton left Whatsapp after it was acquired by Facebook in 2014. He added, “"We all moved on from MySpace. We can move on from Facebook too."
Entrepreneur Elon Musk also deleted the Facebook pages of his companies in the aftermath. He took to Twitter to note, “It’s not a political statement and I didn’t do this because someone dared me to do it. Just don’t like Facebook. Gives me the willies. Sorry. We’ve never advertised with FB. None of my companies buy advertising or pay famous people to fake endorse. Product lives or dies on its own merits.”
Now, Apple CEO Tim Cook has also given his two cents regarding the controversy and criticized Facebook’s actions in a recent interview. He said, “We could make a ton of money if we monetized our customers, if our customers were our product. We’ve elected not to do that … We’re not going to traffic in your personal life. Privacy to us is a human right, a civil liberty.” Cook also said that it is past time to regulate Facebook. “I think the best regulation is no regulation, is self-regulation,” he said. “However, I think we’re beyond that here.”
A week ago, he made similar comments at an event regarding the situation adding, “I think that this certain situation is so dire and has become so large that probably some well-crafted regulation is necessary.”
Our assessment is that the latest revelations regarding Cambridge Analytica are likely to have far reaching consequences on Big Data, data mining and the tech industry. This controversy is also likely to affect other similar companies such as Google and Twitter. With regards to Facebook, its brand has been deeply damaged, and it will be a while before the company is able to regain the trust of its users – if at all.