What’s Lurking in Your Cambridge Analytica Data?

The importance of data literacy in the digital age.

Facebook's Data Leak

By Kat Eves

To delete or not to delete? That seems to be the question on everyone’s mind since the bombshell dropped about Cambridge Analytica and Facebook over the last few weeks.

Here’s the thing. Social media isn’t going away any time soon, which means we gotta get real about something people really don’t like to admit:

Our data is our responsibility.

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica deserve all of the frustration and anger flying their way right now. We’re only talking about the future of democracy and freedom, no big deal. The CA debacle raises numerous problems to the surface, but we’re just looking at one in this post: the quizzes.

The fact that they were able to collect our psychographic data through ridiculous quizzes like “Which Hogwarts House Do You Belong In” should be the public’s “come to Jesus” moment in itself.

(I’m Hufflepuff, in case you were wondering. Actually, I have no idea, I’ve yet to take this quiz, but I can tell you which flavor of La Croix I am.)

Nearly every time you take a Facebook quiz to find out which barnyard animal best represents your personality during Mercury retrograde, a little box pops up before you get started that gives you options on what info you want to share with the quiz app.

It looks something like this:

Cambridge Analytica

Everything in this box is one big data elephant in the room. Have you ever seen this box and wondered what a Harry Potter quiz wants with your email address? What information on my pubic profile could possibly be of interest to the maker of this quiz? Or even more simply – why?

As we cover in our MTO EDU program, sales are increasingly driven by a customer’s connection with a brand’s values, so it’s really no surprise that entire companies focus solely on figuring out what those values look like. Cambridge Analytica is not that unique.

Marketers and advertisers have always looked for ways to get their hands on your data. We all know this by now. Publishers Clearing House does not give away $10,000 because reaction videos are just super fun times. Costco doesn’t give out samples because they love free stuff. They do it because they know you love free stuff, and you’ll be willing to hear a marketer give you a whole sales pitch around their product in exchange for a mini sample cup. You might even be willing to fill out a form with your email address, home address, and phone number for it – without questioning what they’re going to do with that info (or even who they might sell that data to).

Having a free profile on Facebook where we can store basically unlimited data comes with strings attached. Everyone got excited about the Vero app until people started asking who was behind it and what their motivations might be for owning your content on their platform (and also, why won’t they let you just delete your profile? That seems weird, right? Yep, that’s weird). Just because Facebook is as American as apple pie, doesn’t mean it’s more honest. Deep marketing tactics are as American as Uncle Sam and Rosie the Riveter too, after all.

We know that the second you change your relationship status to “engaged,” Facebook starts serving you wedding ads. The fact that we’re not asking ourselves why someone would create a “Which cheese best fits your zodiac sign” quiz says more about the need for digital literacy than it does about marketers’ shady approaches to getting to know us. And if we are considering the question of why, but choosing to go on anyway to find out that Virgos prefer brie, then we can’t really be mad at Facebook for our own decisions. Can we?

As Facebook stock has dropped in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, digital literacy has become the platform’s new big PR priority. But does it go far enough? Every time a person uses a quiz app, Facebook could easily add a little something to that box that links to an educational resource page. In all likelihood, nobody will click through besides the bloggers who write think pieces about privacy rights (that nobody really reads but will share on Twitter anyway), but it’s a start.

Facebook could also make it a whole lot easier for us to understand more about the sources we give our information to. Part of the sophistication in Cambridge Analytica’s scheme lies in creating apps with less intriguing names like QuizPartyUSA (I made that name up based on one of my fave 90s compilation albums, Dance Party USA, btw). Developers should be required to state who the company is and what they do, and Facebook should in turn enforce that and report that information to users. A step further would require developers to state how the data will be used. It certainly couldn’t hurt to force these companies to be even slightly more transparent. And if something looks suspicious, users should be able to report it.

Truth be told, even if Facebook encourages more thoughtful user activity, a good enough incentive will drive many people to act against their best interests. At some point, we have to admit that we as users are the emperor with no clothes. It’s up to us to demand a better cloak.

What do you think Facebook and other social platforms should respond now that the Cambridge Analytica story is out? Get in touch at hello@mtoagency.com and let us know!