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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Cambridge Analytica: You Can Have My Money but Not My Vote

Emily Feng-Gu
Practical Ethics
Originally posted March 31, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

On one level, the Cambridge Analytica scandal concerns data protection, privacy, and informed consent. The data involved was not, as Facebook insisted, obtained via a ‘breach’ or a ‘leak’. User data was as safe as it had always been – which is to say, not very safe at all. At the time, the harvesting of data, including that of unconsenting Facebook friends, by third-party apps was routine policy for Facebook, provided it was used only for academic purposes. Cambridge researcher and creator of the third-party app in question, Aleksandr Kogan, violated the agreement only when the data was passed onto Cambridge Analytica. Facebook failed to protect its users’ data privacy, that much is clear.

But are risks like these transparent to users? There is a serious concern about informed consent in a digital age. Most people are unlikely to have the expertise necessary to fully understand what it means to use online and other digital services.  Consider Facebook: users sign up for an ostensibly free social media service. Facebook did not, however, accrue billions in revenue by offering a service for nothing in return; they profit from having access to large amounts of personal data. It is doubtful that the costs to personal and data privacy are made clear to users, some of which are children or adolescents. For most people, the concept of big data is likely to be nebulous at best. What does it matter if someone has access to which Pages we have Liked? What exactly does it mean for third-party apps to be given access to data? When signing up to Facebook, I hazard that few people imagined clicking ‘I agree’ could play a role in attempts to influence election outcomes. A jargon laden ‘terms and conditions’ segment is not enough to inform users regarding what precisely it is they are consenting to.

The blog post is here.