Facebook is known among marketers for the capability to target individual users based on everything from their interests to their demographics. It’s also known for being a major reason President Donald Trump won the election. Now, both of those facts are coming back to haunt the social media giant.
On Sunday, Facebook encountered user backlash after news reports surfaced on Saturday that the social network had allegedly violated their privacy by releasing their personal data without notifying them. Lawmakers also reacted, with one senator saying she wanted to hear Facebook CEO and Co-founder Mark Zuckerberg testify about what she termed targeted political ads aimed at manipulating voters.
That synopsis of a call for a congressional overview of alleged privacy violations using Facebook data appeared Sunday in The New York Times. Matthew Rosenberg and Sheera Frenkel further reported:
The calls for greater scrutiny followed reports on Saturday in The New York Times and The Observer of London that Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm founded by Stephen K. Bannon and Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, had used the Facebook data to develop methods that it claimed could identify the personalities of individual American voters and influence their behavior. The firm’s so-called psychographic modeling underpinned its work for the Trump campaign in 2016, though many have questioned the effectiveness of its techniques.
But Facebook did not inform users whose data had been harvested. The lack of disclosure could violate laws in Britain and in many American states.
This controversy comes shortly before the May 25 deadline for marketers to ensure the privacy of all EU citizens adheres to the General Data Protection Regulation. These rules mean all EU citizens need to opt in to allowing their personal data to be used for marketing purposes.
And while the Trump campaign’s digital director and his firm aren’t specifically named in Sunday’s controversy — the Times says Cambridge Analytics is “a political data firm with links to President Trump’s 2016 campaign” — the branding firm Giles-Parscale is credited with using individual-level data to win over voters and the presidency. Target Marketing reported on “How Trump Won” in January 2017.
Facebook is vehemently denying that this is a data breach. In Sunday’s story in the Times, a Facebook official is saying the social network did nothing wrong and that Cambridge Analytica is at fault for violating the privacy agreement.
The data came to Cambridge Analytica via a personality quiz Facebook users opted into taking, but that then also harvested the information of that user’s friends, the Times reports.
At issue is that no users were notified of their data leaving Facebook.
What do you think, marketers?
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Related story: How Trump Won