Michal Zlatkovský, the data journalist from the Czech Radio argues that the problem is not Cambridge Analytica – the problem is Facebook. Zlatkovský reminds us that in 2014, Cambridge Analytica offered US users one to two US dollars for filling a personality quiz. About 270,000 people participated for a small reward. The real purpose of the quiz, however, was according to Zlatkovský, not to find out whether the users show introverted or extroverted personality features, but in this way to collect data from their facebook profiles as well as data from their friends’ profiles. Indeed, the quiz at the beginning displayed a request to supply some data; the overwhelming majority of respondents, however, claims Zlatkovský, was not aware about the risks and agreed with this request. In this way the Facebook collected information on almost 90 million users.
The whole issue was brought to light by media four years after the initial data collection started, reminds us Zlatkovský. It was one year after the US presidential election, to which Cambridge Analytica had significantly intervened – as they even boasted themselves. As it is known, though media have been writing about the shady company for quite a long time, Facebook has quit with it just recently.
Experts have always been skeptical about Cambridge Analytica’s bold claims, argues Zlatkovský. Not so long ago, their practices were analyzed by the Czech analyst Josef Šlerka. Šlerka also argues that Cambridge Analytica had used maybe more sophisticated techniques, but it is doing nothing else as number of other consulting firms. Indeed, as Zlatkovský suggests, the new findings do not change anything on Šlerka´s conclusions. Cambridge Analytica are good in doing marketing for themselves, while the real social or political impact of their efforts cannot be clearly proven. Zlatkovský continues that a bigger problem is rising from the fact mentioned first by Šlerka: These recent revelations do not constitute such exceptional situation as Facebook is trying to convince us now. It is actually well-known among experts, and Zlatkovský just summarises this expert knowledge – that Facebook is designed to extract and sell its users’ data. The entire network is in fact a giant hub for collection of data that describe users´ behavior at the Internet. Facebook then simply uses those data for to accurately target advertising and resell to third parties, explains Zlatkovský. Clearly, this is not news but a well-known fact already for years, at least among experts. Yet, as a result of the media publicity of the Cambridge Analytica case, also many common users can realize practical implications steming from operation of such a tracking network, conclused Zlatkovský.
Zlatkovský is right – for Facebook this is another of the cumbersome problems. Facebook did it itself: it had virtually monopolized the internet “public space”, and that has, as it appears today, among other things, a major impact on the shape of democracy. A recent documentary film The Cleaners mentioned by Zlatkovský, on the other side, reveals terrible conditions in which anonymous masses of facebook “censors” work and the inability of the tech giant to reasonably moderate the content. Zlatkovský points out that Mark Zuckerberg, who last year still believed that his work leads us to a better world, seems to have awakened this year from his idealism. Together with Zuckerberg, not only the European Union, but also the United States and the national governments are beginning to awaken – and if Facebook is asleep, it will not escape a hard regulation, concludes Zlatkovský.
Problém není Cambridge Analytica, problém je Facebook