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After Facebook/Cambridge Analytica – Who do you trust with your data?

Undoubtedly you have heard of the recent scandal surrounding the misuse of data by the analytics firm Cambridge Analytica in conjunction with millions of Facebook profiles. However, what has this meant for the social media platform and how will this impact attitudes towards how users treat their data online?

The story so far?

Cambridge Analytica breached more than 50m Facebook profiles without permission to collect key data about users and their contacts. Not only that, but it used this data to manipulate public behaviours and attitudes towards political events such as the 2016 US election and Brexit vote in the UK.

This was reported after the former Director of Research at Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie, outed the company and revealed the stories surrounding the use of data within the company to the New York Times and UK Observer.

How did they do it?

The data was taken using a quiz app, which asked users to fill out information about themselves and also, through Facebook’s API, also allowed access to data from all of the original installer’s friends list. This means that people who didn’t even download the app or fill out a quiz, still had their data scraped.

How was the data used?

It is claimed that the data was also used to influence political attitudes during Brexit. Pro-Brexit campaigns were found to have used their funding to push their agenda and in turn have an influence on the outcome of the vote.

What’s happening now?

Since the news broke there have been a number of reactions online. Mark Zuckerberg himself has come out and apologised for the slip up in British Newspapers, 50 billion dollars of Facebook’s market value was wiped away and a hashtag #DeleteFacebook started trending online, with influencers like Elon Musk deleting the Facebook pages for SpaceX and Tesla as he promised.

Concerns are now being raised over the real severity of this data breach and what this means for other applications who have also used Facebook APIs to utilise this data.


The public reaction has been one of outrage, with many people incensed that another company had access to data they thought was private. Cambridge Analytica maintains that it thought it’s original practices were in line with data protection laws but later on decided to delete it, following Facebook’s request.

So, with all the backlash, how are people really treating the news? Optus Digital conducted a small survey to understand what people thought about the situation and whether it made them lose trust in social media. Other publications have also gathered data on the subject, to truly understand whether the outrage is just a false outcry or if it really is the end of the line for people’s personal relationship with Facebook.

Our studies show that 50% of correspondents had lost trust with Facebook over their handling of the data, with industry expects such as Darren Moloney (@darren_moloney) from All Things Web referring to it as a “Sheer abuse of power”.

On the other hand, other correspondents were resigned to the idea that their data was always in Facebook’s hands to begin with and that they are careful about what kind of digital footprint they leave. Some responses included:

“I am careful with my data and I don’t believe they were hacked, the data was given over willingly” – Anonymous

“It’s always been that way” – Anonymous

“I’m careful what I share online, and I don’t put anything up that I would not be willing to state on a public forum” – Farhad, @AccuraCast

The general consensus from the second group indicates an understanding that they are happy for Facebook to publicly use any data it has access to.

100% of the people surveyed also said that they would not delete Facebook, or any other social channels following the scandal because “nothing has changed”, they “found it too important” and that they “were not a fan of knee jerk reactions and anyone who just realised their data was being harvested is a victim to their own naiveté”.

Facebook – 20%, Instagram – 20% (another Facebook property) and Twitter – 20% are amongst the most trusted social media channels, with another 20% of users having no trust in any social media channel and the remaining 20% selecting LinkedIn as the most trustworthy platform.

Overall, what the scandal has taught us is that we don’t realise how much companies know about us and how powerful this data is when used to manipulate our behaviours, thoughts, buying patterns and conversations. Even with the new GDPR regulations coming into play, there is no telling how many companies are actually misusing your data or carelessly allowing 3rd parties to use it for their own profit and gain. Whether this has a long-term impact on attitudes towards social media and the publics personal information online is yet to be seen… Want to share your thoughts as part of our study?

Take 2 minutes to fill out our survey.

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