Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg interviewed for a number of media outlets last Wednesday. The news of data-mining and political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica was the main agenda of the interviews. It is rumored that Cambridge Analytica had used the personal information from Facebook, without users’ permission, in the campaign of political parties.
Cambridge Analytica had worked on Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign and on the Brexit campaign in the UK. After The Observer, The New York Times and Channel 4 News reported the data breach, Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica from advertising on its network.
Zuckerberg’s conversation with Kara Swisher for Tech Publication Recode was among the more revealing interviews, in which the explanation was given of not only how Cambridge Analytica exploited Facebook data, but how Facebook itself was designed.
The launch of the “Facebook Platform” was a critical step in Facebook’s growth path in 2007, also the year Facebook launched in Ireland and the UK. To grow faster, Facebook sought out developers who – in return for getting access to users’ data – could build applications that would further benefit Facebook’s pervasiveness, at no cost to the network.
The platform allowed developers to build applications within Facebook – people will be familiar with the idea of “signing in” to apps via Facebook, rather than using the traditional username/password method. This was promoted by Facebook as Facebook Connect and is now called Facebook Login for Apps.
When authorized, those apps usually sought extra data from Facebook profiles (date of birth, “liked” pages and, crucially, friends lists). And unless users turned off access, these apps had continuous access to those details as users’ Facebook profile evolved.
Cambridge Analytica and third-party researcher Alexander Kogan exploited this function, as did tens of thousands of other developers. A year after Facebook Platform’s launch, Facebook had 33,000 applications and 400,000 developers registered.