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Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Skinner Box and What It Means For Bangladeshi Users

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Apr 15, 2018

Many of us in the country are quite anxious as we follow the news of the mammoth scale of 87 million users' data breach by Cambridge Analytica through Facebook, our most visited social media platform as proven by its 3rd position of the most visited sites from Bangladesh (Alexa 2018). Bangladesh has 580,000 active Facebook users out of 29 million account holders based on internet world stats as well as BDOSN. It's very likely that if you're reading this, you have a Facebook account and you are active there. This takes us to the question - how many Bangladesh users were affected. Were you one?

In other words, did Cambridge Analytica collect your Facebook data and that of your friends’ and use it in ways you never thought you'd allow?

So who or what is Cambridge Analytica? According to their site cambridgeanalytica.org, it’s an organization with the mission to influence political and commercial behaviors of people through data-driven techniques. The organization boldly states its success story of influencing voters for the Trump victory Campaign. So how could it influence?

Cambridge Analytica had conducted a survey through a participant paid app called “this is your digital life” to collect data of 270,000 Facebook users who without knowing also allowed their friends’ data to be collected. This reached 85 million users’ data to be collected by Cambridge Analytica, all without the consent of the users outside the 270,000 survey participants. Professor Vladeck from Georgetown University writes in Harvard Law Review that surely all of the 85 million did not consent making this non-consensual. The big data was then used to understand users political views, especially by the Trump campaign team and were targeted with information that would influence US 2016 election voters towards Trump as the right candidate for US president.

Let's get back to our concern. Did you take that personality test on Facebook by an app called “this is your digital life”? If you did, let me know (kamal.hossain@bracu.ac.bd) as we are researching on how many in Bangladesh used that app and were potentially affected. So far, Facebook's CTO Mike's blog only shows top 10 countries affected of which our neighboring India is on the list. We still do not know the impact Bangladesh users have faced.

Affected 85 million users’ breakdown according to country (Schroepfer 2018)

While we investigate to find out impact on users of Bangladesh, we also find out the change in the privacy rules by Facebook will disallow all apps to ask for any information on political views, religious views, the details regarding relationship, work and education background, fitness activities based information, reading activities, listening to music activities, news reading, video watching activities and games activities.

That raises a huge concern for business organizations who rely on apps to collect data of users and target better audience. Just imagine a gym in Dhaka intending to better target its marketing campaign through a fitness app. That won’t be happening anymore!

The policy changes are more to come, as promised by Facebook. As we celebrate many joyful moments social media like Facebook delivers us, we also come to the point where abuses of such massive data collecting platforms corner us to think, how much openness is under our control versus how much is it under the control of political/commercial establishments?


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Kamal Hossain is a Senior Lecturer of eCommerce and Management Information Systems at BRAC Business School, BRAC University. He can be reached at kamal.hossain@bracu.ac.bd

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