It has been referred to as a “breach” and misuse of private information. It has been the buzz of social media and it may have long-lasting impact, particularly in the United States. We are talking about Cambridge Analytica’s use of information it retrieved from Facebook and Facebook users. This data was apparently used to target political ads to influence the American election.
Before we get too far into the weeds on the subject, it should be noted that the purpose of all political advertising is to influence voters. This should surprise no one. It should also be noted that this information was gathered within Facebook’s own guidelines. If there was a breach, it was, in fact, the “breach of trust” Mark Zuckerberg referred to in the interviews he gave following the news. People trusted Facebook with their information. That being said, Zuckerberg made his fortune gathering information from users and selling his “audience” to companies wanting to target certain groups and individuals. Internet privacy is to a great degree, an illusion. We’ve all had that startling experience of searching for a topic or service and all of a sudden we are seeing ads for that product on our social media. Where did we think this information was coming from? We were, and are, providing this wealth of data ourselves, and doing so willingly.
The Evolution of “Mailing Lists”
In pre-internet days, magazine companies would sell their subscriber lists to companies who saw value in targeting people interested in the content of a particular magazine. Just by having your name and address, and knowing the types of magazines you subscribed to, marketers could do a surprisingly effective job of reaching target audiences for decades. As time progressed, people became a little more comfortable filling out paper surveys and polls, giving their opinions and more private information. They were often rewarded with an entry to win a prize in a drawing or by getting a free sample. Soon, digital loyalty cards began stockpiling data on consumers with the promise of saving 25 cents on a box of detergent or a package of frozen peas. The internet and social media then really opened the floodgates.