DeKALB — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of Congress Tuesday and Wednesday, confirming Facebook user data was collected by a United Kingdom-based analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica.
The data was not sold by Facebook to the firm, rather a personality test developed by Aleksandr Kogan, a University of Cambridge psychology professor and data scientist, collected and sold the data of 87 million users to Cambridge Analytica, according to a March 19 Channel 4 News documentary.
“The data was given to [Cambridge Analytica],” said David Gunkel, media studies professor. “Facebook doesn’t sell data. It allows app developers to scrape data in order to utilize it. It’s not a breach in the sense of the Equifax breach, but it’s more a matter of how Facebook works with its app developers.”
Facebook used users’ posts to decide which advertisements to direct at them. Information collected to make such determinations included race, religion and political affiliation, among other things. Facebook users can check which category they fall under by going to Settings and Privacy, Account Settings, Ads, Your Information and then Your Categories. From there, advertising preferences will be listed.
Sen. Dick Durbin asked Zuckerberg Tuesday if he would be comfortable sharing which hotel he stayed in the previous night, or if he would be okay with showing the public the text messages from his phone.
“I think that’s what this is all about; your right to privacy, the limits to your right to privacy and how much you give away in modern America in the name of connecting people around the world,” Durbin said.
Zuckerberg told Congress Facebook is in the business of advertising and assisting advertisers, not in the business of selling data to anybody.
“I don’t see the advertising as a good thing or bad thing,” said Nick Tassone, freshman finance major. “If they advertise things you’ll like, that’s fine, but it also feels like an invasion of privacy without proper notification.”
Zuckerberg told Congress the ads users see are based on their past likes and shares. It is up to the advertiser how they want to target the audience, but Facebook also suggests users to advertisers based on the things in their profile.
“If an app is gathering information about you because you’ve allowed them to do so by agreeing to their terms of service, the app not only scrapes data from your account, but it gets data on their friends,” Gunkel said. “It’s a chain reaction.”
Zuckerberg told Congress Facebook is a technology company because their primary objective is to write code and build products and services.
He also told Congress Facebook often finds out about data breaches from the media before they ever detect the breaches themselves and admitted the social media giant collect data on non-Facebook users.
Facebook does have a page for non-Facebook users to access data collected on them, however, it requires a Facebook account to access it.
Gunkel said with the controversy Facebook has been a part of, they are headed toward becoming government-controlled.
“Is it time for the government to regulate Facebook, or will the market correct itself,” Gunkel asked.