If you missed it over the weekend, The New York Times and The Guardian have published long, must-read stories about how Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign's data firm, was involved in a sneaky and perhaps illegal data collection scheme that allowed Cambridge Analytica access to the private information of 50 million Facebook users. According to the New York Times:
The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.
Facebook leaders don't want you to call it a breach, but whatever you call it, it's another opportunity for Facebook's billions of users to be reminded: you are the product. Facebook, like other social media platforms, is a machine for collecting personal data on individuals—which, true, is willingly given away by to Facebook by its users. The company then sells that data to advertisers and political campaigns by giving them the ability to precisely target Facebook users whose "likes," interests, and associations make them appear susceptible to certain messages.
In the case of this breach, Cambridge Analytica got its hands on Facebook user data through sketchy means that have caused a 28-year-old former Cambridge Analytica employee to come forward as a whistle blower. "I made Steve Bannon's psychological warfare tool," this data guru told The Guardian.
That tool, by the way, seems to have been effectively bought for Bannon (and Trump) by Robert Mercer, the conservative hedge fund billionaire whose massive yacht was docked in Lake Union last summer.
The data itself came into Cambridge Analytica's hands via a popular Facebook personality quiz, called myPersonality, that was essentially a Trojan horse for harvesting information that could be used to build psychological profiles of the people who took the quiz (and, alarmingly, all of their Facebook "friends," too).
Facebook, which has known about this issue for years, suspended the accounts of Cambridge Analytica and (controversially) the whistleblower just before the news broke. It also claimed it thought the user data had been destroyed.
"We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information," the company said in a blog post. "We will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens."