Exploiting Facebook Data To Influence Voters? That’s A Feature, Not A Bug, Of The Social Network

By David Pierson
Los Angeles Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Former employees of Cambridge Analytica accuse the firm of taking advantage of ill-gotten data belonging to millions of unwitting Facebook users.

Los Angeles Times

With each comment, like and share, users provide Facebook with a deeply personal window into their lives.

The result of that voluntary behavior?

Advertisers looking to finely target their pitches can glean someone’s hobbies, what they like to eat and even what makes them happy or sad, propelling Facebook’s ad revenue to $40 billion last year.

This trove of rich information is now at the center of a rapidly growing controversy involving one of President Trump’s campaign consultants, Cambridge Analytica, which reportedly took the advertising playbook and exploited it in a bid to influence swing voters.

Former employees accuse the firm, owned by the conservative billionaire Robert Mercer and previously headed by Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon, of taking advantage of ill-gotten data belonging to millions of unwitting Facebook users. News of the breach was met with calls over the weekend for stricter scrutiny of the company.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., demanded that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Maura Healey, attorney general for Massachusetts, said her office was launching an investigation. And the head of a British parliamentary inquiry into fake news called on Facebook to testify before his panel again, this time with Zuckerberg.

The accusations raise tough questions about Facebook’s ability to protect user information at a time when it’s already embroiled in a scandal over Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential campaign and under pressure to adhere to new European Union privacy rules.

They also highlight the power and breadth of the data Facebook holds over its 2 billion users. Whether used to sway voters or sell more detergent, the information harvested by the world’s biggest social network is proving to be both vital and exploitable regardless of who’s wielding it.

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