In the 2010s, personal data belonging to millions of Facebook users was collected without their consent by British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, predominantly to be used for political advertising.[1]

The data was collected through an app called "This Is Your Digital Life", developed by data scientist Aleksandr Kogan and his company Global Science Research in 2013.[2] The app consisted of a series of questions to build psychological profiles on users, and collected the personal data of the users’ Facebook friends via Facebook's Open Graph platform.[2] The app harvested the data of up to 87 million Facebook profiles.[2] Cambridge Analytica used the data to provide analytical assistance to the 2016 presidential campaigns of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.[3][4] Cambridge Analytica was also widely accused of interfering with the Brexit referendum, although the official investigation recognised that the company was not involved "beyond some initial enquiries" and that "no significant breaches" took place.[5][6]

Information about the data misuse was disclosed in 2018 by Christopher Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica employee, in interviews with The Guardian and The New York Times.[7] In response, Facebook apologized for their role in the data harvesting and their CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of Congress.[7] In July 2019, it was announced that Facebook was to be fined $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission due to its privacy violations.[8] In October 2019, Facebook agreed to pay a £500,000 fine to the UK Information Commissioner's Office for exposing the data of its users to a "serious risk of harm".[9] In May 2018, Cambridge Analytica filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.[10]

Other advertising agencies have been implementing various forms of psychological targeting for years and Facebook had patented a similar technology in 2012.[11] Nevertheless, Cambridge Analytica’s openness about their methods and the caliber of their clients — including the Trump presidential campaign and the UK’s Vote Leave campaign — brought the challenges of psychological targeting that scholars have been warning against to public awareness.[11] The scandal sparked an increased public interest in privacy and social media's influence on politics. The online movement #DeleteFacebook trended on Twitter.[12]

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