StashLearn
Get the app
Get the app

Join millions of investors on Stash

Investing, simplified

Start today with as little as $5
Get the app
Money News

Why Is Facebook In Trouble Over 2016 Election Data?

March 19, 2018

  • Facebook allegedly misused the data of over 50 million users 
  • Cambridge Analytica used the data to build psychological profiles
  • The firm targeted voters for President Trump’s 2016 campaign
3 min read

It’s tough to “like” Facebook news like this.

The social media giant came under fire from regulators and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, after it was revealed over the weekend that personal data from millions of users had been harvested to create voter profiles for a firm working with the Trump presidential campaign in 2016.

A firm called Cambridge Analytica reportedly gathered the information, using it to create psychological profiles and models to target voters. Cambridge Analytica allegedly scraped private information from 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge or permission.

As regulators in the U.S. and the European Union vowed to investigate, Facebook said Friday it suspended its relationship with Cambridge Analytica. Though it’s being referred to as a data breach, Facebook is pushing back, saying that the claim is “completely false”.

“Everyone involved gave their consent,” Facebook’s VP and Deputy General Counsel Paul Grewal said in a company news release. “People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”

What’s a data breach?

The phrase refers to an unauthorized leaking or use of private user data. While Grewal said that this situation doesn’t technically qualify as a data breach, private information was accessed and used without its — or user’s — permission.

0M
Facebook users affected
0%
of American adults use Facebook
0B
total Facebook users worldwide

Many other tech companies have experienced data breaches over the past few years, including Yahoo, where potentially billions of users had their names, phone numbers, and email addresses stolen starting in 2013.

In this case, an academic named Aleksander Kogan at Cambridge University, in England, created an app to take data from Facebook users without Facebook’s consent.

Kogan, through a company called Global Science Research, reportedly created an app, called “thisisyourdigitallife”, which asked users to answer personality questions purportedly for academic use, while scraping personal information from their profiles.

Global Science then used this information to build voter profiles. Millions of Facebook users reportedly input their information, which Global Science then shared with Cambridge Analytica.

What is Cambridge Analytica, and what does it do?

Cambridge Analytica was founded in 2013 as a data mining and analysis company, with funding from the Mercer family, who also back Breitbart News. It uses the data it collects to target specific parts of the population, mostly for marketers and political campaigns.

The data firm worked with the Trump campaign in 2016, along with a Super PAC, to provide data analysis.

Who’s affected?

Fifty million Facebook users, for starters, which is a fraction of its approximately 2 billion users.

Nevertheless, concern about weaknesses in Facebook’s privacy controls reportedly caused the company’s stock to drop on Monday morning. Facebook’s problems also prompted a stock market sell-off later in the day.

Facebook said in its press release that it’s investigating how Cambridge used customer information, and that it would take legal action if it found any unlawful activity.

Facebook’s ongoing privacy struggles

This isn’t the first time Facebook has come under scrutiny for potential weaknesses in how it secures user data.

In 2013, the company said that data for 6 million users had been vulnerable to download by unauthorized parties over the course of a year-long breach.

Why should it matter to you?

Most U.S. consumers use Facebook — 68% of adults, according to Pew Research Center, and more than two-thirds of the population actively maintaining profiles.

Big tech companies such as Facebook and Google are free to use, but in exchange, they make money by trading and selling data about users to advertisers and marketing companies. The data is valuable, which makes it a target for hackers, as well as companies such as Cambridge Analytica.

The latest news comes soon after changes that Facebook recently made to prioritize the posts of friends, family and other personal relationships over those of businesses, publishers and advertisers.

By Sam Becker
Sam Becker is Stash's financial writer.

Next for you
The Equifax Hack: What You Need to Know

Investment Profile

Bonds Worldwide

An International Bond ETF on Stash

Learn more
Explore more articlesChoose a topic to learn more about
market news Retirement pop culture Careers social media
Disclaimers

This material has been distributed for informational and educational purposes only, represents an assessment of the market environment as of the date of publication, is subject to change without notice, and is not intended as investment, legal, accounting, or tax advice or opinion. Stash assumes no obligation to provide notifications of changes in any factors that could affect the information provided. This information should not be relied upon by the reader as research or investment advice regarding any issuer or security in particular. The strategies discussed are strictly for illustrative and educational purposes and should not be construed as a recommendation to purchase or sell, or an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy any security. There is no guarantee that any strategies discussed will be effective.

Furthermore, the information presented does not take into consideration commissions, tax implications, or other transactional costs, which may significantly affect the economic consequences of a given strategy or investment decision. This information is not intended as a recommendation to invest in any particular asset class or strategy or as a promise of future performance. There is no guarantee that any investment strategy will work under all market conditions or is suitable for all investors. Each investor should evaluate their ability to invest long term, especially during periods of downturn in the market. Investors should not substitute these materials for professional services, and should seek advice from an independent advisor before acting on any information presented. Before investing, please carefully consider your willingness to take on risk and your financial ability to afford investment losses when deciding how much individual security exposure to have in your investment portfolio.

Past performance does not guarantee future results. There is a potential for loss as well as gain in investing. Stash does not represent in any manner that the circumstances described herein will result in any particular outcome. While the data and analysis Stash uses from third party sources is believed to be reliable, Stash does not guarantee the accuracy of such information. Nothing in this article should be considered as a solicitation or offer, or recommendation, to buy or sell any particular security or investment product or to engage in any investment strategy. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form, or referred to in any other publication, without express written permission. Stash does not provide personalized financial planning to investors, such as estate, tax, or retirement planning. Investment advisory services are only provided to investors who become Stash Clients pursuant to a written Advisory Agreement. For more information please visit www.stashinvest.com/disclosures.