The Problem Is Facebook, Not Cambridge Analytica

Authored by Leonid Bershidsky via,

Facebook is being hammered for allowing the data firm Cambridge Analytica to acquire 50 million user profiles in the U.S., which it may or may not have used to help the Trump campaign.

But the outrage misses the target: There's nothing Cambridge Analytica could have done that Facebook itself doesn't offer political clients.

Here, in a nutshell, is the CA scandal. In 2014, Aleksandr Kogan, an academic of Russian origin at Cambridge University in the U.K., built a Facebook app that paid hundreds of thousands of users to take a psychological test. Apart from their test results, the users also shared the data of their Facebook friends with the app. Kogan sold the resulting database to CA, which Facebook considers a violation of its policies: The app was not allowed to use the data for commercial purposes. Carol Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison, writing for the U.K. publication Observer, quoted former CA employee Christopher Wylie as saying the firm "broke Facebook" on behalf of Stephen Bannon, the ideologue and manager behind the Trump campaign.

It didn't escape keen observers that if the Trump campaign used Facebook user data harvested through an app, it did no more than Barack Obama's 2012 data-heavy re-election campaign. It's not documented exactly how Obama's team gathered oodles of data on potential supporters, but a deep dive into the tech side of that campaign by Sasha Issenberg mentioned how "'targeted sharing' protocols mined an Obama backer’s Facebook network in search of friends the campaign wanted to register, mobilize, or persuade." To do this, the protocols would need to use the same feature of the Facebook platform for developers, discontinued in 2015, that allowed apps access to a user's friends' profiles -- with the user's consent, as Facebook invariably points out.

Let's face it: Users are routinely tricked to obtain such consent. Tech companies make giving it, or agreeing to complex terms of service, look like a low-engagement decision.

"Is it okay if we look at your friends' info?" they ask.

"Sure, why not? I want to take this nifty psychological test," we answer.

Afterward, only Facebook itself is interested in the legal minutiae of what permissions it gave to which developers. As far as everyone else is concerned, it doesn't matter whether an app gets the data for research purposes or for straight-up political ones. Average users worry more about convenience than privacy.

The relevant question, however, is what a campaign can actually do with the data. CA's supposedly sinister skill is that it can use the Facebook profile information to build psychological profiles that reveal a person's propensity to vote for a certain party or candidate. When matched against electoral registers, targeted appeals are possible.

But no one should take the psychological profile stuff at face value. No academic work exists to link personality traits, especially those gleaned from the sketchy and often false information on Facebook profiles, definitively to political choices. There is, however, research showing that values or even genetic factors trump traits. It's not even clear how traits affect political behavior, such as the tendency to vote and donate to campaigns: Some researchers, for example, have found a negative relationship between emotional stability and these measures; others have found a positive one.

This is not to say Facebook data, including data on a user's friends, can't be useful to campaigns. The Obama campaign actually asked its active supporters to contact six specific friends suggested by the algorithm. So 600,000 people reached 5 million others, and, according to data from the campaign, 20 percent of the 5 million actually did something -- like registering to vote.

But did the Trump campaign need CA and the data it acquired from Kogan to do this kind of outreach in 2016? Likely not. Facebook cut off the friends functionality for app developers because it wanted to control its own offering to clients interested in microtargeting. 

There's plenty of evidence that Brad Parscale, who ran the digital side of Trump's campaign, worked closely with Facebook. Using the platform's "Lookalike Audiences," he could find people who resemble known Trump supporters. Facebook also has the capacity to target ads to the friends of people who have "liked" a page -- a Trump campaign page, for example.

Targeting messages to millions of specific people without going directly through Facebook is messier and probably more expensive than using the social platform's own tools. All Facebook requires for access to its data trove is a reasonable fee. 

Whether CA could add anything meaningful to Facebook's effort is unclear. Its previous client, the unsuccessful presidential campaign of Senator Ted Cruz, has said it didn't deliver on all its promises.

Some studies have shown that Facebook ads can work quite well for businesses. If they also worked for Trump, the CA story is a red herring: It's Facebook's own data collection and the tools it makes available to clients that should be the target of scrutiny and perhaps regulation, both from a privacy perspective and for the sake of political transparency.


pigpen motoXdude Tue, 03/20/2018 - 11:22 Permalink

Moto, Brendan CEO of brave and former CEO of Firefox decided to use chrome engine to get off the ground. He will change the engine once he gets traction. Brave protects user by DEFAULT. No opt out. What good is advertising if ad can't be served, viewed or tracked?

Thiel funded brave. They are trying to disintermediate advertising model with micropayment.

Interesting model and simple for Grandma or any tech Luddite to install to destroy goobook monopolies.



In reply to by motoXdude

onewayticket2 Tue, 03/20/2018 - 10:47 Permalink

Of course FB is the issue, but Zuck is a liberal and is going to run for President...the press - except Bloomberg for obvious competitive reasons - will protect FB/Zuckerberg.

two hoots Tue, 03/20/2018 - 10:53 Permalink

Facebook is the issue, the gun is the issue, the prostitute is the issue, drugs are the issue?  WE ARE THE ISSUE.  Without we, responsible we, Facebook is void of 0/1s.

small axe Tue, 03/20/2018 - 10:54 Permalink

Facebook is the government. It's well past time to stop thinking of Facebook as a Silicon Valley conjuring trick and start thinking of it as an extension of the the NSA.

yaright Tue, 03/20/2018 - 10:55 Permalink

your DATA is being mined "everywhere" got a smart phone? Twitter? Snap Chat? Hell looking at this web site


All your DATA belongs to them... flip that $1.00 over, see that eye? LMAO

otschelnik Tue, 03/20/2018 - 10:56 Permalink

Well yes, but if you're a Obummer bro or Shillary accolate SJW and you spend half the day online "liking" your fellow travelers, and then suddenly you find out that you've been harvested and turned over to Steve "Beelzebub" Bannon who made a psycho-profile on you and all your dimwitted BFF's and BMF's...  Oh!  THE HORROR!

Chief Joesph Tue, 03/20/2018 - 10:58 Permalink

All of these companies that collect data, such as Google, Facebook, AOL, Beenverified, and other data brokers, should be outlawed and the chief execs put behind bars for 20 years.  America already has problems enough with the NSA, CIA, and FBI in this regard.  Its nothing more than a racket, that  preys on you, personally.  Other countries, like Japan, Korea, China, Luxembourg, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Germany, etc., they have outlawed this sort of data collection long ago.  America needs to wise up and stop this immediately. 

BrigstockBoy Tue, 03/20/2018 - 10:59 Permalink

It's my belief that Zuckerberg felt he could do whatever he wanted with the platform and be just as 'successful.' He clearly has a messiah complex.

I sincerely hope that Facebook, recognized as an addiction destroying society, goes down in flames.

Rex Andrus Tue, 03/20/2018 - 11:01 Permalink

The problem is the DS in collusion with the Obama cartel running puppets MSM, FAANG, telcos, FBI puppets in DC, COINTELPRO+ADL false flag ops everywhere like the 60s & 70s (((they are nothing if not unoriginal))) and the DNC is still operating as if they were the presidents, not DJT. It is obvious which foreign entities the Obama cartel is working with. The former Obama administration is waltzing around governments at all levels masquerading as the legitimate administration, working with foreign and domestic enemies against the legitimate government. Bill Clinton still identifies as President, Hillary identifies as SoS, etc. Vermin grovel for their favor. If the top doesn't drop the hammer on this BS the bottom must. 

Solio Tue, 03/20/2018 - 11:03 Permalink

Everybody must totally ignore all ads.

People, hopefully, are smarter than to allow themselves to be swayed by these pleas for their time and money.

Full Court Lug… Tue, 03/20/2018 - 11:06 Permalink

Look at all these crocodile tears about how some meany mean head STOLE ALL MY PRECIOUS FACEBOOK DATA A-BLOO-BLOO. As though that wasn't the entire point of Facebook in the first place: to give sinister corporations and government agencies all your data and not care what they do with it.

Also, LOL forever at the implication that evil Russian/UK/whatever digital strategists somehow "hacked the election" by showing a few thousand bucks worth of ads to a few thousand people, in an election where billions were being spent to flood every media outlet with slanted coverage one way or the other.

Downtoolong Tue, 03/20/2018 - 11:11 Permalink

I’m amazed by the plethora of shock and awe headlines in the MSM today surrounding Facebook’s latest involvement in personal data abuses. Not because it’s shocking and awesome to me, but, because they suggest a majority were living under some naïve delusion that social media companies have an inherent benevolent purpose.

The moral hazard embedded in data mining by big tech companies is unprecedented and unavoidable. This should be obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense. No company gathers this much information on people without intent to somehow exploit them with it. No corporate or government client of social media giants pays money for the information without expecting a payback by similar means. Thousands of companies and organizations have been using this data to profile and target users at the individual level for profit, political gain, and other nefarious purposes. Users are exposed to new methods and techniques that manipulate their thoughts and behavior far more powerful than anything they have ever experienced from conventional advertising or other means. Most shocking of all is how most users have embraced this new technology with little knowledge of what really goes on behind the curtain, or concern for the possibility of adverse consequences.     

Perhaps it’s time to place a Psychologist General’s Miranda Warning at the top of each user’s Facebook page:

 “WARNING: You have surrendered your right to privacy in the fine print of Facebook’s user agreement. Everything you say, click, post, tweet, photograph, email, search, view, and purchase online – in addition to everywhere you are at every moment – can and will be used against you by state-of-the-art artificial intelligence algorithms engaged in relentless profiling, behavioral analysis, psychological manipulation, and target marketing.”

Zoomru Tue, 03/20/2018 - 11:12 Permalink


"The Problem Is Facebook, Not Cambridge Analytica..."


Ha, I think Zero Hedge needs to understand where "AT&T" sits in all this fog.... 

Miss Expectations Tue, 03/20/2018 - 11:21 Permalink

Let's not forget the Clinton/Podesta/Zuckerberg/Face Book connections as revealed in the Podesta Email dump:
Leaked Podesta Emails Show Facebook Colluding With Clinton Campaign ‘I Want HRC to Win Badly’

FLASHBACK=> In one of the leaked Podesta emails, the COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg emailed John Podesta saying she wanted Hillary to win “badly”. Sandberg also said she looked forward to working with Podesta to elect the first woman president of the United States.

Mark Zuckerberg also emailed John Podesta on August 7, 2015 “I enjoyed spending time with you yesterday…I look forward to continuing our conversation”……

Avichi Miss Expectations Tue, 03/20/2018 - 11:28 Permalink

What #TRUMP and his "ex Campaign" did now is to hand the shovel to dig their own grave, with exposing CA and FARCEBOOK nexus. the "Systemic Risk " of this is ...Eric Schmidt ex CEO GOOGLE is on the HOOK and the Pedophile RING, watch for GOOGLE to make a statement soon...and try to distance themselves....the noose is tightening slowly but steadily...PANIC MODE IN PROGRESS

In reply to by Miss Expectations

Stan Smith Tue, 03/20/2018 - 11:29 Permalink

    "If it's free, YOU are the product."

    -- Me --   (and others of higher standing im sure)


    I was on FB when it was in it's formative years -- when it was strictly on and for education servers  -- and it only took about a handful of interactions with it to realize what it was doing.    And this was before it went "public" and turned into the behemoth that it is today.

    Scrapping it when I did, about 3 months in,  means they probably have some info on me from a decade+ ago,  but not much compared to what people blather on FB now.   Holy hell.    I guess it's a mystery to me that it took this long for people to figure it out.

    FB is the worlds largest public spy network.   Only it's not really spying if folks WILLINGLY give them their personal information to the level that they do... and they do.

    Lambs to the slaughter.

TuesdayBen Tue, 03/20/2018 - 11:35 Permalink

We've been warned.  A day will come.  Ten, twenty, fifty years down the road.  Political, economic, social winds will have shifted.  There will be crisis.  Scapegoats will be sought out.  It has happened many times before.  It'll happen again.  The scapegoats will be sought out not based on what they look like, what they wear, what they do for a living.  They'll be sought out based on interpretation of their 'data file'.  A stunningly comprehensive and astonishingly accurate profile of who they are, their proclivities, where they've been, what they've done, whom they associate with, and most importantly what they think/believe.  It'll be easy to locate them.

Who will be using data files aka 'profiles' to seek out the scapegoat class?  The way I see it, there are two types politically.  Those who wish to be left alone, and those who wish to control.  The control freaks (today, they're the Obamas, Brennans, Clappers, Rices, Clintons, Schiffs, Holders, Powers, Warrens, McCabes, Rhodes, Pelosis, O'Donnells, Tappers, Schmidts, Zuckerbergs, Dorseys...) will be the genocidal ones.  They'll be coming for the people who've resisted and fought against being controlled, the 'want-to-be-left-aloners'.

I don't do social media because I want no part of that as a matter of principal.  No FB, Twitter, Amazon Prime, etc.  I know i have a profile, and I will have a profile down the road if I live long enough.  They'd still find me.  But I do what I can to not participate.  If I had children, I'd strongly encourage them to opt out as well. 

A day will come.

To Hell In A H… Tue, 03/20/2018 - 11:35 Permalink

I've moaned to my missus for years regarding Facebook and mobile phone and tablet apps asking for too much invasion into your privacy and data.

Why the fuck would a children's maths app for a 6 year old, ask for access to your photo's, contacts and user habit "only to be used to improve the service"? Unless it is an app from the BBC, or mega big organisation, every app designed by a medium to small sized business asks for the most intrusive terms to accept, otherwise the app will not be installed. 

On this issue, when the EU acts, it will act, stop this practice and hand out fines, while in the USSA? Government can't act otherwise it's nanny state, communism, capitalism rules with no government intervention and the free-markets know best. Good luck Yanks. Soon you'll have to accept them looking into your medical records, otherwise you cant download the app. lol

The UK undercover programme also alluded to the fact that with a mere 55 likes, Cambridge Analytica is 96% accurate on your whole personality including if your parents divorced before 21. Yes 96% accurate including if your parents were divorced before 21 and where did they do most of their field testing before refining it in the west? Africa. Cambridge Analytica tell the plebs and TV the 5 fields they call OCEAN, but in reality they work on 11. I also teased the Trumptards on ZH at least 2-3 months ago, maybe even longer how Cambridge Analytica had these fools mapped and conditioned and they didn't even know it. All they do is play on your fears and the subconscious ones at that. My fellow Brits have the world sussed.

Avichi Tue, 03/20/2018 - 11:38 Permalink

You want to HURT mother fucker with more bruises and bleeding is to start  anti-campaign in CHINA and INDIA, where this mother fucker Mark Suckerberg and Google and Microsoft,  are salivating with 4 billion potential revenue stream, and 4 Billion of "Sheeps" who will follow their orders...and SOCIALISM /COMMUNISM will strive.

affirmed_78 Tue, 03/20/2018 - 11:41 Permalink

We went down the rabbit hole by trying to censor certain political ads which may or may not have been purchased by foreign entities.  It is not the job of FB or any other online companies to censor ads.  They can choose to censor anything they want since it's their company, but it should not be required by law or anything else.

As a user, you know everything you do on there is being fully monitored.  What do you get out of it?  Nothing, except the privilege to stalk your friends and neighbors.  You'll get nothing and you'll like it.  If you don't like it, cancel your account.  In reality, users should be paid a monthly fee based on their usage/data that FB harvests, but that ain't gonna happen.