Facebook App on iPhone with computer laptop background closeup male hand hold social network on smart device concept. Photo: iStock
Facebook App on iPhone with computer laptop background closeup male hand hold social network on smart device concept. Photo: iStock

Facebook has been in the news constantly since the Cambridge Analytica scandal began, and it is desperately fighting to regain its credibility.

Facebook’s management, who are accused of collecting and selling users’ data without their permission, hasbeen under fire since  Cambridge Analytica data scientist Christopher Wylie  blew the whistle on the UK-based company he cofounded. Admitting that illegally obtained data was used to swing elections, he confessed: “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles and built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.” He recently told a UK parliamentary committee that the Brexit outcome was engineered using such data.

By acquiring personal information from Facebook users to build software targeting voters in political campaigns, Wylie said the company have have even contributed to US President Donald Trump’s election victory. Obtaining voter data with a Facebook-linked app called “thisisyourdigitallife,” Cambridge Analytica’s Aleksandr Kogan would pay users for completing a detailed test revealing personality traits on the pretext of carrying out purely academic research. Gathering information from 50 million users was not enough, the dragnet also pulled data from users’ network of friends and family.

Influencing the outcomes of the US election and the Brexit referendum  has had global repercussions, say observers. The firm has allegedly pitched its services to politicians worldwide. In a report on the allegation that Cambridge Analytica executives offered to “fix” the Sri Lankan elections, Britain’s Channel 4 News network revealed the extent the firm went to disseminate propaganda.

Condemning the social network, Elon Musk deleted the Facebook pages of his companies, Tesla and Space Exploration Technologies Corp, last month. While Salesforce.com’ s Marc Benioff recounted, “I got in trouble with friends of mine at Facebook, who were calling me and very upset with me because I said, ‘Facebook is the new cigarettes. It’s addictive, it’s not good for you and there’s outside forces trying to manipulate you to use it.” Such criticism is unusual within Silicon Valley’s closeknit tech community.

As the controversy continues, the future of Facebook and all such social media networks is becoming uncertain. Though the site has connected the world, the cons appear to be outweighing the pros these days. People are thinking twice about feeding their mobile numbers, academic and employment records, and even their blood group into the Facebook information queries. Having shared thousands of photos, some users have even transferred these memories elsewhere and wiped all data from Facebook. Recently, as the hashtag #DeleteFacebook began to trend on Twitter, the US Congress even got Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to testify about the breach, but he refused a request to appear before the British parliament.

Comparing Facebook and Google to “oil barons,” French President Emmanuel Macron recently said the tech giants are becoming “too big to be governed”

Comparing Facebook and Google to “oil barons,” French President Emmanuel Macron recently said the tech giants are becoming “too big to be governed.”

He observed: “At a point of time – but I think it will be a US problem, not a European problem – at a point of time, your government, your people, may say, ‘Wake up. They are too big.’ So at this point, you may choose to dismantle. That’s what happened at the very beginning of the oil sector when you had these big giants. That’s a competition issue.”

Piling pressure on Silicon Valley’s mega-companies, Macron’s remarks seem to indicate that Facebook and Google’s halcyon days are over now. Privacy is going to take center-stage, and it seems these social media giants may be on the way out.

Having deleted their Facebook accounts or erased all personal details and data, users may have been surprised by a report by Ars Technica exposing the Facebook Lite app. Apparently, after gathering all phone contacts, the app tracks mobile phone calls without permission. In its defense, Facebook said that while the Facebook Lite app does gather users’ call and text histories, it does not record the content or sell any of this particular data. However, it seems highly probable that user data is still being used somewhere.

Deleting the app might solve the immediate problems, but the gathering of data might not end there. Apps will most probably find new ways to automatically generate content and fleece people of data, images, video and even audio. The fact remains that social media apps and networks can provide their services for free because they gather data and generate income from advertising.

Sabena Siddiqui

Foreign Affairs Journalist, Lawyer and geopolitical analyst. Writing about modern China, the Belt and Road Initiative, Middle East and South Asia. Bylines in Al-Monitor, The Diplomat, South China Morning Post and Asia Research Institute's Asia Dialogue Twitter @sabena_siddiqi

One reply on “Can Facebook survive Cambridge Analytica scandal?”

Comments are closed.