Did Cambridge Analytica get your Facebook data? Chicago-area users are starting to find out
By Ally Marotti and Corilyn Shropshire and Ese Olumhense
Apr 10, 2018 | 6:40 PM
Hope Bertram is in digital marketing. She knows what can be done with a Facebook user's data and is careful to protect her own. If she takes a quiz through the social media platform, she makes sure it's only collecting basic information about her.
Her Facebook friends — or at least one of them — apparently weren't so careful.
The resident of Chicago's Graceland West neighborhood was one of millions of users who received a notification from Facebook on Tuesday morning informing them that their data might have been accessed by Cambridge Analytica. The political data-mining firm, hired by President Donald Trump's campaign, allegedly used ill-gotten data from Facebook users in an attempt to influence the 2016 election.
"I'm fine with being tracked online. … I love it that I can go to Swimsuits For All and look for swimsuits, then be served up ads," Bertram said. "What I don't like is if it's going to be used to manipulate elections, or if the data was not given by me."
"I know when I go to a website I'm going to be retargeted, but I didn't give my friends permission to give my data away to someone else," she said.
The notification Bertram received Tuesday told her that "one of your friends" used Facebook to log into a now-banned personality quiz app called "This Is Your Digital Life." The notice says the app misused the information, including public profile, page likes, birthday and current city, by sharing it with Cambridge Analytica.
As many as 87 million users who might have had their data shared were supposed to get a detailed message on their news feeds starting Monday. Facebook says more than 70 million of the affected users are in the U.S., though there are over a million each in the Philippines, Indonesia and the U.K., where Cambridge Analytica parent SCL Group is based.
The notifications appear as a link at the top of users' news feeds to show them what apps they use and the information they have shared with those apps. Through the link, users will be able to remove the apps they no longer want, the company said. Facebook also is providing a link for people to check if their information has been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.
Bertram has no plans to quit Facebook. She's the owner of Chicago-based Digital Megaphone, which hosts workshops for marketers. Facebook is too integral to her work, and there are aspects of it she enjoys. But she is concerned about how changes Facebook might make to its privacy policies, including how its users are targeted, could affect her work.
And if it's not Facebook making the changes, it could be policymakers, after CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies this week on Capitol Hill.
Zuckerberg testified Tuesday afternoon before a joint session of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees, addressing public concern over online privacy issues and his company's role.
He apologized for the exposure of users' data and said that the company is investigating all app providers to ensure they are not using Facebook information improperly. If they do, Zuckerberg said, they will be banned from the social media platform.
The company, he said, also is working with other governments to ensure they aren't improperly using data gathered from Facebook. Lastly, the company will make it clear to users which apps they use will have access to their data.
"It's clear now that we didn't do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy," Zuckerberg said. "We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I'm sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I'm responsible for what happens here."
Facebook has been promising to better protect its users data since The New York Times and The Observer of London reported last month that Cambridge Analytica gained access to private information of tens of millions of users. The firm claimed its tools could analyze voters' personalities and influence their behavior with targeted messages.
The maker of "This Is Your Digital Life" was able to scrape the personal data from the Facebook friends of about 270,000 users who took the quiz.
Despite the incident, most people likely won't quit using Facebook, said Kent Grayson, associate professor of marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.
"Nobody can consistently predict tipping points," said Grayson, who studies consumer trust. "It seems very unlikely that this alone will cause millions of people to delete Facebook," he added, though he acknowledged that the reaction to the Cambridge Analytica scandal has been stronger and more negative than usual in cases of corporate wrongdoing.
Many Chicagoans were initially roiled by revelations that their data was exposed, but few appear ready to say farewell to Facebook just yet.
For Juliet Dervin, who spent decades working in digital media, Facebook is a useful tool for keeping in touch with friends and acquaintances, staying informed of events in her Hyde Park neighborhood, and connecting with groups that passionate about the same causes she is. She's not ready to give it up.
"It's so embedded with our lifestyle," Dervin said. "I'm not there yet."
Nearly 70 percent of American adults use Facebook, according to the Pew Research Center. Close to three-quarters of those users visit the site daily, the Pew data show.
Most use the site in the same ways Dervin does, said Grayson, and he predicts that many will continue to use it as before. The financial crisis of 2008 subjected banks to significant scrutiny, he noted, but they rebounded. Facebook can too, Grayson said.
Facebook hasn't informed users about who among their friends took the quiz that ultimately exposed their data to Cambridge Analytica. Without that information, users said, it's hard to feel confident that Facebook is taking users' concerns seriously or managing the situation transparently.
That's left some users unsure where to point the blame.
"If my grandma was the one who connected to Cambridge Analytica, I can forgive her," said Katya Siddell, a River North resident who describes herself as "security conscious." Still, she can't excuse carelessness on the part of others, including Facebook.
"It feels like stealing," said Siddell, who used to run a social network analysis company. "Facebook has gotten so big that they've forgotten that beyond all the data points there are actual people."
That's why Paul Biasco wishes he could break up with Facebook but knows he won't.
For starters, he has a few business Facebook accounts, for his restaurant, Quiote; his bar, Todos Santos; and his professional website. Facebook also is an easy way to keep up with his grandma, who is not terribly tech savvy, he said.
But Biasco, a Logan Square resident, said he is pretty disgusted knowing that the company didn't do enough to protect millions of users from being manipulated.
"To see that it was used politically opened a lot of people's eyes; it's almost psychological warfare," he said. "They are using people's personality makeup to decide on how they want to target a certain way to get them thinking a certain way about a cause. Without something this blatant coming out, people (wouldn't) take the time to think about what this means."
Michael Lis, CEO of Naperville-based social media consultancy Speck Media is happy Facebook is setting limits on what information businesses can gather from the platform. Before, Lis said, he and his employees weren't entirely comfortable with all of the data that could be quickly collected about users.
Lis likened the data collection happening on social media to the "wild, Wild West." Basically anything goes, he said, and users weren't aware of it. It's about time there were some rules, he said.
"Facebook is wrong in not really explaining the rules of the game to everyone," Lis said. "It is in the fine print, but it's hidden beyond what most people could find."