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Cambridge Apocalyptica

March 19 · Issue #100 · View online
The Interface
The longer you consider Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, the stranger it seems. The basic details of the story, in which a shady researcher improperly gave away data to the company that became Donald Trump’s data operations team in 2016, have been known for two years. The effectiveness of Cambridge Analytica’s psychographic targeting, which attempted to influence voters by mapping out their Facebook likes, is highly suspect and likely overstated. The eye-popping number of Facebook profiles said to be involved — 50 million — may turn out to be marketing hype for a company that excels at it.
And yet as Monday came to an end, revelations from this weekend’s stories in the New York Times and the Guardian continued to batter the company. A bipartisan group of US senators called upon CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify about how Cambridge Analytica came into possession of so much user data. Former Federal Trade Commission officials involved in crafting a 2011 consent decree with the company said Facebook may well have violated its agreement, potentially subjecting it to massive fines. British authorities promised to investigate the incident as well. The company’s stock fell more than 10 percent from the all-time high it set on February 1st.
Cambridge Analytica’s data misuse may ultimately have had little effect in influencing elections here or abroad. But the way Cambridge Analytica obtained its data, and reports that the company held onto the data despite telling Facebook it had deleted it, have renewed concerns about data privacy on the world’s biggest social network. After learning that data from a researcher’s personality quiz app had improperly been shared with Cambridge Analytica, Facebook took the company at its word that it had purged user profiles: “That to me was the most astonishing thing,” former employee Christopher Wylie told the Guardian. “They waited two years and did absolutely nothing to check that the data was deleted. All they asked me to do was tick a box on a form and post it back.”
Facebook’s lack of enforcement in the face of bad actors, coupled with misuse of its platform on a grand scale, have drawn outrage around the globe. And while Cambridge Analytica is among the most prominent examples to date of how Facebook can be misused, it belongs to a long and growing list. In March alone:
Taken together, these incidents paint a picture of a platform on which crises are developing faster than its minders can address them. A year and a half after Donald Trump’s election sparked a cultural reckoning over social media, Facebook has struggled to contain the fallout. A series of steps taken to remove terrorist propaganda more quickly, and tamp down on the spread of fake news, have produced some encouraging results. But those steps have done little to stop the daily drumbeat of articles about ways in which Facebook is misused around the world, often with disturbing results.
If Facebook failed to act in the Cambridge Analytica case before, it’s attempting to make up for that now. The company said Monday that it had hired a forensics team to investigate the company, with Cambridge Analytica’s permission. But before Facebook could complete its audit today, the United Kingdom Information Commissioner’s Office ordered that they stop while the office pursues a warrant to mount its own investigation.
It was a dramatic real-world standoff in a case that has until now played out mostly online. And yet the standoff also had an undeniable symbolism: Facebook, attempting to fix its mistakes by itself, found itself at last restrained by the government. As the day came to a close, neither Zuckerberg nor his chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, had made a statement about the Cambridge Analytica revelations. In the brutal months since the election, Facebook has typically been quick to apologize. But after an overwhelming March, it appears that its top executives are speechless.

Four from last week
Also, hi! Good to be back after a week away. Here are the five most important things we would have written about last week if we weren’t away.
1. The reckoning over social media has transformed SXSW
2. Trump administration finally announces Russia sanctions
3. Facebook Quietly Hid Webpages Bragging of Ability to Influence Elections
4. Six Key Points from the EU Commission’s New Report on Disinformation
Everything you need to know about the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook debacle
Data Leak Puts Facebook Under Intensifying Scrutiny on Two Continents
Here’s how Facebook’s system allowed Cambridge Analytica to get data for 50 million users
One of the data scientists involved in the Cambridge Analytica mess now works at Facebook.
Facebook "privately welcomed" help of whistleblower, then publicly suspended account, attorney says
Cambridge Analytica: Whistleblower reveals data grab of 50 million Facebook profiles
Meet The Activist Who Uncovered The Russian Troll Factory Named In The Mueller Probe
How Europe's New Privacy Law Will Change the Web, and More
Here’s How A “Poop Cult” With 58,000 Followers Set Off A Facebook War
How Facebook Groups Are Being Exploited To Spread Misinformation, Plan Harassment, And Radicalize People
Here's What Wall Street Analysts Are Saying About Facebook's Data Scandal
YouTube May Add to the Burdens of Humble Wikipedia
YouTube suggested conspiracy videos to children using its Kids app
YouTuber KSI to fight Logan Paul in two-match boxing deal
Twitter to prohibit range of cryptocurrency ads
China to bar people with bad 'social credit' from planes, trains
Rivals Chip Away at Google’s and Facebook’s U.S. Digital Ad Dominance, Data Show
Drama on HQ as Would-Be Winner is Kicked Out for Cheating
She Was the Only Woman in a Photo of 38 Scientists, and Now She’s Been Identified
Facebook is rolling out Patreon-style subscriptions for a small group of creators
Cambridge Analytica and the Dangers of Facebook Data-Harvesting
Cambridge Analytica’s leak shouldn’t surprise you, but it should scare you
What Is Cambridge Analytica and Who Is Christopher Wylie?
Facebook’s Surveillance Machine
Post from Andrew "Boz" Bosworth on Facebook
Facebook and the endless string of worst-case scenarios
Here’s two #celeb takes on the Cambridge Analytica news:
Edward Snowden
Businesses that make money by collecting and selling detailed records of private lives were once plainly described as "surveillance companies." Their rebranding as "social media" is the most successful deception since the Department of War became the Department of Defense.
And finally ...
Facebook Announces Plan To Combat Fake News Stories By Making Them Actually Happen
What do you know that I don't?
What’s the view of this weekend news inside Facebook?, or DM me on Twitter for my Signal and Telegram.
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