Columns Opinion

Cambridge Analytica scandal shows how companies abuse our data

Information is powerful. Historically, the empires that had higher technological advancements were the ones who conquered. We live in a day and age where our information is like bacteria; scattered everywhere and ripe for cultivation. The people that reap our data have operated in the shadows as we saw with the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal involved companies targeting voter biases, through the use of data aggregation, the gathering and summarizing of information for a specific purpose. The data was extrapolated from 270,000 people who downloaded an app designed by a Cambridge professor that gave permissions to access their information and that of their friends under the guise of academic use. In total this scandal involved 50 million users of Facebook, most of whom did not consent to the use of their information.

This was problematic because the data was then passed to Cambridge Analytica, a company that used the acquired data to serve up highly personalized and curated political advertisements dictated by someone’s personality or microtargeting. The issue here is consent and transparency. Consumers need a clear picture of what their data will be used for.

This information was acquired and misused through a completely legitimate route of data acquisition at the time. This scandal puts into question the restrictions that we currently have in place surrounding our data protection and look towards solutions to the problem of data misuse.

The European Union already has a robust data protection law in the pipeline called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that goes into effect on May 25th of 2018. This insightful piece of regulation essentially hands the control of data to the people by giving consumers more power to opt-out of directed marketing, giving consumers the right to retrieve their data and sell it, and prevents the collection of data from children under the age of sixteen without parental approval.

Our information has a quantifiable value and the owners of the data should have complete and direct control of their data and the right to opt out of the systems that we have created.  

In order to give this law teeth, the European Union is fining violators of the law up to 4% of their annual revenue depending on the particular statute that they violate. For the tech behemoths that we know, this number could be in the billions of dollars.

This law is not solely directed towards the tech giants, but also the mixture of smaller ad companies that stalk people across the web.   

This progressive regulation is empowering for European consumers because it gives them the wheels to the very lucrative car that is their data. The Honest Ads Act, a bill in the US Congress that seeks information disclosure about the purchasing of ads on social media networks, simply does not even scrape the surface of how user data could and should be protected.

What makes the Cambridge Analytica scandal matter is not the seedy and shady way that this particular company has claimed to influence elections, similar situations have been happening abroad for years

The core of the scandal is the control of our data, the information that makes up the people that we are and how that information can be acquired and dissmated.

We have allowed companies to freewheel with our data for too long, and stricter regulation is the only way we can take control of our identities through our data.        

Senior Staff Perren Wright is a Computer Science junior and can be reached at [email protected]







Leave a Comment