Facebook, research firm under pressure after data exchange revealed

Facebook, research firm under pressure after data exchange revealed
Updated: Mar. 20, 2018 at 9:44 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - It's estimated that Facebook information from 50 million Americans was taken through a misleading app that was disguised as a personality test and then used to predict those users' habits and behaviors during the presidential campaign.

"Once somebody has your data or Facebook sells your data, we don't know who the person who bought your data will do with the data afterward," said FOX 8 tech consultant Nam Nguyen.

The information from the personality test was only supposed to be used for a research study at Cambridge University by a professor named Aleksandr Kogan, according to Facebook. But instead of deleting it, it was stored and used to create the company Cambridge Analytica, which has now been suspended from Facebook.

Cambridge Analytica used the data to predict the behavior of millions of Americans and tried to influence them using targeted ads, many of which were false and misleading.

Two key investors of Cambridge Analytica were Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer, according to a former employee turned whistleblower. Both Bannon and Mercer were leaders in President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.

Though the data mining may have been done in a misleading way, using this kind of information for political campaigns is not new.

"I worked for a direct mail company that would target people for legislative incentives based on where they lived, what their zip code was, as well as whether they considered themselves liberal or conservatives, so the practice isn't new," social media consultant Tiffany Starnes said. "It's just that the information that we are putting out there and the information that we are giving these organizations is much greater now, and there is much greater access to your lifestyle and your behavior preferences."

"That's all in the terms of service, but nobody reads those things," Loyola Law information privacy professor Ray Areaux said.

Areaux, an attorney, believes it is naive for social media users not to realize that such a mining of information is possible. But he said even though Facebook claims it shared the information under the agreement that it would be deleted, that does not mean the social media giant is off the hook - especially with the Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Congress and U.K. Parliament all questioning the practice.

"The questions are, what could you have done to prevent this? Isn't there a best practice? Why didn't you do A, B and C? That's where I think this is going. I'm not sure where it's going to end but that is where it's going," Areaux said.

Tuesday, Cambridge Analytica suspended its CEO after a video surfaced of him saying he helped Trump win the election by using all the analytics and data. He had previously told Parliament the company did not use such data to help the Republicans during the election.

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