Facebook's biggest bully in history, such is the nonsense of the Cambridge Analytica scandal

Facebook's biggest bully in history, such is the nonsense of the Cambridge Analytica scandal

In 2014, American citizens were asked to download an app (a personality quiz app) to answer questions for research. Different types of personal questions were placed in it. But to answer all of them, you had to login to Facebook. Those who answered in this way were also given a minimum of five dollars.

All these works were done by Alexander Kogan for Cambridge Analytica, a British company that provides political advice. Kogan collected the data of millions of Facebook users from the app. Which was used by Cambridge Analytica for various purposes. Although this matter came out only in 2015, it came to the surface only in 2018. Facebook was seriously accused of stealing user data. He also had to pay millions of dollars in fines.

Today, if any organization and company uses the user's data without their consent, this incident is considered connected. Now the incident is known as 'Facebook Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal'. Due to the fine that Facebook had to pay, the US presidential election in 2016, etc., this incident became famous.

Today we will discuss how this incident happened, what Facebook did, what happened to it, etc.

Cambridge Analytica

Its history goes back to the Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) Group founded by Nigel Oakes in the UK in 1990. It was a private intelligence company. At that time, the company was active in the military and political fields. Later, in January 2013, Cambridge Analytica (CA) was born as a subsidiary of SCL Group. In that, Alexander Nix was made the director and chief executive officer (CEO).

Cambridge Analytica was a political consultancy. It used various methods of data science to work for the election campaigns of political parties. Its main task was to make political advertisements targeting the voters. For this, it used data analytics, psychological profiling, data mining.

According to various media organizations, Cambridge Analytica had set up its own branch in America, South Africa, Ireland, Singapore etc. to do such work. The company appointed Kogan in the company to collect the data needed for that work.

Alexander Kogan

He is an American researcher born in Russia. He also worked as a professor at Cambridge University from 2012 to 2018. He was a data scientist and psychologist by profession. He was entrusted by Cambridge Analytica in 2013 to collect data on American users.

Since 2007, Facebook has allowed other developers to use its platform with various tools and technologies. With this, those developers could create an app related to Facebook. That platform had various types of APIs, SDKs and other necessary tools, using which those app developers could get access to Facebook's data. Kogan also proposed to make his app for educational purposes using the same feature on Facebook. Which was easily accepted by Facebook.

After that, he and his company Global Science Research developed an app called 'This is Your Digital Life'. The main objective of the app was to collect basic information of Facebook users and to know what they click the 'like' button on. Their argument was that people can know what they like to do and how they like it from the like button.

According to various media, the algorithm used in that app had the ability to know what kind of person you are from 10 likes, from more than 150 likes to tell more about your personality than your parents, and based on 300 more likes, it had the ability to know more about you than your husband or wife.

In addition, many questions were placed in the app to prepare a psychological profile of the users. Also, the Facebook API was used in the app to access and collect data from Facebook users' profiles. This app could collect personal data not only of the downloader but also of other friends connected with him.

For this, Kogan used a weakness in Facebook's terms of service. If the user agreed to share his data with the app, the app could also collect data from his other Facebook friends. This weakness at that time proved to be expensive for Facebook.

The app was downloaded by 270,000 people within a month. It is said that the data of 5.5 million users was collected initially, but it is said that the data of 87 million people has been collected. The number which is said to be a quarter of Facebook users in America at that time.

The data collected in this way was given by Kagon to Cambridge Analytica. According to the New York Times, Cambridge Analytica gave Kogan more than eight million dollars to do this work.

When Facebook came to know all this, then Christopher Wiley informed.

Christopher Wylie

Wiley told Facebook in 2015 that the app was working with Cambridge Analytica to collect user data. He is a former employee of Cambridge Analytica. To confirm his point, he also provided screenshots of emails and other documents to Facebook.

At that time, Facebook did not take any major steps against the work, he later told various media. However, Facebook started investigating this matter even after that. In the investigation, Facebook found that the app violated its privacy policy by collecting data without user consent.

After that, Facebook removed the app from its platform. Facebook also asked Kogan to destroy the data collected from the app. Accordingly, Cambridge Analytica told Facebook about the destruction of all data. But according to media reports, the data was kept safe by not doing so.

Wylie didn't stop there. He quit his job at Cambridge Analytica in 2016. In an interview later given to The Guardian, he said that he told the then CEO of Analytica, Nix, about the misuse of data in 2015, but he ignored it. After leaving the job, he reported this to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) in the UK in the same year. The ICO started investigating the data being used by Cambridge Analytica only from March 2017.

By this time, Cambridge Analytica had already been linked to the 2016 US presidential election.

US Presidential Election, 2016

The 58th US presidential election was held on November 8, 2016. The two leaders of the Republican Party, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, were interested in this. Both of them are accused of using the same Facebook data obtained by Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign. However, Trump went to the election from that party. He became the president. It is said that the data was widely misused in his election campaign.

Special: It is alleged that the data is used to find out the interests of the voters and play political ads accordingly in their news feed, showing only the things they like.

The New York Times wrote that Trump paid more than six million dollars to Analytica to win the election. Similarly, by the time of suspending his election campaign, various media wrote that Cruz had paid 5.8 million dollars for using the services of Analytica. Cruz has admitted that he used the services of Cambridge Analytica, while Trump has always denied this. But because of that data, Trump has been accused of winning the election by misleading people.

Media organizations wrote that there are many grounds to confirm that Cambridge Analytica helped Trump in that election. like; Robert Mercer, the CEO of Rentech, an American technology company, invested in Cambridge Analytica. He was one of the main supporters of Trump during the election. Similarly, Steve Bannon, one of the directors of Cambridge Analytica, was Trump's campaign manager.

After the election, both the American and British agencies investigated the issue of data misuse. However, both agencies could not gather any concrete evidence that the data collected by Cambridge Analytica was used in the 2016 presidential election or not. Because of this, some regulators have concluded that the data was used, while others say there is not enough evidence to prove it.

The British ICO wrote in its research report that Cambridge Analytica used that data to create psychological profiles of voters and used it to play political ads. However, the ICO said that it found no evidence that the data was used to influence the results of this election.

On the other hand, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said that it found no evidence that Cambridge Analytica used data in the 2016 election. But it confirmed that it violated Facebook's terms of service by collecting data without users' consent.

After the election, this scandal came to the surface again. This time, The New York Times and The Observer (The Guardian's weekly newspaper) wrote about the incident in March 2018 through investigative journalism. Those media organizations accused Cambridge Analytica of allowing Facebook to use the personal data of 550 million users and helping Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election.

News, performance and research

When the issue of data misuse was raging, Nix, the then CEO of Cambridge Analytica, gave an interview to the British media organization "Channel Four News" saying that his company could change the outcome of any election around the world. That added fuel to the fire in the incident. After his interview, the ICO issued a warrant to investigate the company's services.

But the ICO was already investigating this incident. The action of ICO was also supported by the British High Court. His same statement caused him to lose his position as CEO of Cambridge Analytica, and Julian Wheatland was appointed as the new CEO.

On the other hand, the news of the New York Times also created various debates in America. Soon after the news broke, some digital rights activists staged a protest against the company outside Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California in March 2018.

They protested physically with pamphlets like 'Facebook: Stop Selling Our Data', 'Cambridge Analytica: Data Thieves'. A similar protest was held in April 2018 outside the former headquarters of Cambridge Analytica in London, UK.

Two months after the news that Facebook was weak in data security was published, WhatsApp co-founder Brian Axon tweeted on May 21, 2018 from his account that "it's time to delete Facebook". The reason he wrote in this way was because Cambridge Analytica misused the data of millions of Facebook users.

At that time, when the news came out that Facebook was not able to protect data, many users like him raised their voices on Twitter. Hashtags like 'Delete Facebook', 'One Your Data' (#DeleteFacebook, #OwnYourData) were trending on Twitter at that time. Also, during the same period, the number of likes, posts and shares on Facebook decreased by 20 percent.

The US FTC also started investigating the Cambridge Analytica scandal only after the same news of the New York Times. Specifically, the agency focused its investigation on whether Cambridge Analytica violated Facebook's terms of service by collecting data without users' consent. It also investigated whether the data was used to make political advertisements.

In addition, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had to give an explanation to the US Congress about this scandal on April 10, 2018. How did the US Senate get Facebook data from Cambridge Analytica? What did Facebook know about that? How is Facebook protecting user privacy? He asked various questions.

It was the first time that a CEO of a technology company was asked to explain data privacy before the US Congress. Therefore, Zuckerberg's explanation is considered as an important moment in the history of social networks. Along with that, CEO Zuckerberg apologized for the incident through major media outlets in the UK and America. Also, in the same year, Kogan's 'This Is Your Digital Life' app was removed from the App Store and Play Store.

Facebook, Kogan and Cambridge Analytica

In this case, the data of 8.7 million people was collected without their permission. But no one seems to have taken responsibility for it. Kogan, the app developer, said that he had done this according to the agreement with Facebook, while Facebook said that Kogan had deceived them.

According to Facebook, Kogan said he would collect research data. But Facebook accused him of not doing so and selling the data to Cambridge Analytica against the company's policy. Kogan argued that the written agreement mentioned that the data collected in this way can be used for commercial purposes.

However, Facebook did not consider the incident a data breach. Facebook did not accept the data breach saying that no passwords were stolen and the system was not affected. But Facebook said that the incident has lost trust with users. Similarly, there seems to be no direct relationship between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.



In this scandal, Facebook had to pay fines in both the US and the UK. ICO (UK) and FTC (USA), the bodies of both countries that investigated this matter, found Facebook guilty. The ICO paid Facebook $500,000 in 2018 for failing to protect user data and being transparent about how that data was collected by others.

On the other hand, the FTC's investigation focused on whether Facebook violated the 2011 data and privacy agreement. The agreement stipulates that when Facebook gives any data to others, it must inform the users and get their consent.

In 2019, the FTC fined Facebook five billion dollars after violating these agreements. It is said that the fine imposed on any technology company related to data and privacy is the highest so far.

The ICO fined Cambridge Analytica $500,000 in 2018, concluding that it violated Facebook's terms of service by collecting data without users' consent. In the US, the FTC did not fine Cambridge Analytica. Because by the time the investigation was completed, the company had closed down.

But the FTC filed a complaint against SCL Group, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica. The same year, SCL Group was ordered to pay $1.25 million for violating the FTC's privacy rules. Also, all data collected from Facebook users was ordered to be destroyed.

The fine that Facebook had to pay in this scandal did not stop there. In July 1919, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ordered Facebook to pay $100 million for allegedly misleading investors about the misuse of user data. In addition, in December 2022, the FTC ordered Facebook to pay $725 million in financial compensation to users affected by the scandal. It is said that if any American citizen keeps Facebook open and active from May 24, 2007 to December 22, 2022, they can claim the amount.

Apart from this, the governments of India and Brazil have demanded a report on how Cambridge Analytica used user data for political campaigns. In India, a case was filed against the company in 2018.


Netflix has produced a documentary called 'The Gray Hack' about this incident. The documentary, made in 2019, shows the background of the incident, Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and the 2016 election.

This event has highlighted the importance of data literacy, the power of data, the need for its regulation. After this, data privacy laws were tightened around the world. Overall, the 'Facebook Cambridge Analytica data scandal' has taught us important lessons about data privacy and usage.