More information has emerged about Facebook’s role in the 2016 elections, and the revelations may rock the foundation of social media and digital marketing. On March 16, Facebook announced it had suspended Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group from its platform. Both companies were involved in gathering data to be used in the 2016 presidential race. Cambridge Analytica focuses on psychographic profiling – gathering data online to develop detailed personality profiles for voters. Any digital marketer can see the resemblance to the buyer persona. Hyper-personalized ad content is then used to influence voter activity.
The Cambridge Analytica Scandal: Why This Time is Different
Controversy emerged not simply because a firm was gathering data for a politician, but because Cambridge Analytica may have improperly obtained data through Facebook. The controversy stretches to 2015, when about 270,000 Facebook users installed an app called thisisyourdigitallife (sic) that employed psychological principles to predict user personality traits. The app’s developer, University of Cambridge psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, was then able to compile data on users’ place of residence, interests and connections. This data fell into the hands of SCL, the strategic communications company behind Cambridge Analytica. Facebook learned of this Terms of Service violation – app developers may not sell or give away users’ data – and later found, despite assurances to the contrary, the data may not have been destroyed when the violation was discovered. This has ignited a firestorm of problems for Facebook:
Facebook’s Negligence May Have Influenced the 2016 Presidential Election
If true, the misuse of data would provide major advantages to Cambridge Analytica and its client candidates, including Donald Trump. Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who brought the situation to light, has said Steve Bannon sought to use the illicit data to benefit “alt-right” candidates nationwide.
Facebook is the Main Breeding Place for “Fake News”
Many people are now looking at Facebook as the biggest source of fake news. The original and more salient definition refers to fabricated stories intended to influence public opinion online. But the term fake news now refers to most any unfavorable coverage of prominent politicians.
Facebook is Being Exploited by Bad Actors
The revelation that Kremlin-affiliated “troll farm” Internet Research Agency may operate tens of thousands of accounts, including some of the network’s most prominent pages, has many concluding Facebook is incapable of responsibly managing its platform.
What Will Happen Now – And What Should Business Owners Do?
On April 10, following testimony by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Congress rolled out the CONSENT Act, which would require companies to let users opt out of data collection. Although the CONSENT Act faces an uncertain future, its ideas are not unusual internationally. Enterprises worldwide have been navigating the requirements of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation for years in the run-up to its May 2018 compliance deadline. GDPR applies to virtually all businesses that collect data about EU residents on the Internet, even if their operations are located in the United States. Non-compliant firms can face stiff fines. Whether you plan on GDPR compliance or not, however, it gives insight into a different – and customer-centered – approach to privacy that puts power in the consumer’s hands. As businesses strive to inspire trust among increasingly wary consumers, they can take a page from the GDPR playbook in how they structure data collection and privacy efforts. Whether you use Facebook ads or not, consider taking these steps:
Use “Affirmative Consent”
All data collection activities, including location, should be preceded by collecting active consent from users. That means phasing out pre-checked boxes and pre-populated forms.
Users should understand how their data will be used – for example, the topic and frequency of email messages should be specified when users sign up to a subscription list.
Users should be able to review all data pertaining to them. They should be able to request data from you even if they do not have a website account or other easy means of accessing it.
Users should have the option to completely delete all personal data you have collected at any time. They should also be able to revoke consent at will for any collection activity.
The debate on data privacy in the new digital age is bound to last for years. These proactive steps will help business owners maintain trust while a new consensus emerges.