Cambridge Analytica and Facebook Scandal

Cambridge Analytica and Facebook Scandal
Short Title Cambridge Analytica Compiled Facebook User Data to Target American Voters
Location Global
Date 2016

Solove Harm Aggregation, Secondary Use, Surveillance, Decisional Interference, Insecurity
Threat Actors Cambridge Analytica Ltd., Trump campaign team, Facebook

Affected Users of Facebook, American voters
High Risk Groups
Tangible Harms Change of Behavior

Cambridge Analytica combined personal information of Facebook users during the electoral processes in the United States in 2016 in order to build a program predicting and influencing user choices at the ballot box.


Cambridge Analytica Ltd was a British political consulting firm that developed a model to influence people's political choices through targeting advertising on Facebook. The model was developed based off the personal information of people on Facebook. Cambridge Analytica was hired by the Trump campaign team in 2016.

The model Cambridge Analytica used obtained data through the myPersonality app which contained a 100 questions quiz and was provided to users as a personality test. Many respondents who took the quiz authorized Cambridge Analytica to gain access to their data and their friends' network profile data. This allowed the company to assess a person’s openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Combining these different categories of personal information is an example of Aggregation.

Cambridge Analytica then turned to Aleksandr Kogan, a psychology professor at Cambridge University, who developed an app thisisyourdigitallife, similar to myPersonality, which was used to harvest data from more than 50 million Facebook profiles. The users who authorized the app to have access to their data were told that their information was being used for academic research. Using this data for targeting users with political ads and influencing them on their choices is an example of Secondary Use.

The data that the app was able to get access to was users’ entire Facebook profile information as well as the user's friends' network information. This included a person's “likes”, to watch and analyze one's preferences. Facebook watching user behavior through their “likes” can be seen as Surveillance.

What allowed Cambridge Analytica to harvest the personal information of users on an unprecedented scale, was claimed (by media and by Facebook) as a data breach Insecurity. This was reported as the largest known leak in Facebook history. However, the company failed to notify users even after they found out about the breach and didn’t apply necessary measures to recover and secure the private information of more than 50 million individuals.

Cambridge Analytica exploited this insecurity to harvest the personal information of users in order to build a model that would predict individuals’ choices. This would allow them to better target advertising to the users and influence their political preferences during the presidential elections. This is an example of Decisional Interference.

Cambridge Analytica said it had destroyed the user information it had collected on Facebook. But raw data reviewed by the media suggests the information, or copies of it may still exist.

Cambridge Analytica's actions and its connection with Trump campaign raised urgent questions about Facebook’s role in targeting voters in the US presidential election.

Both companies have faced a backlash after the scandal. In 2018 Facebook announced a forensic audit on Cambridge Analytica and banned myPersonality for improper data controls and suspended hundreds of other apps.

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