World Events

‘Impossible’ for Cambridge Analytica-style scandal to happen again – POLITICO

Facebook’s Nick Clegg says Cambridge Analytica’s tactics have been outlawed on the platform | Andy Rain/EPA

Facebook executive said the illegal use of people’s data to target them online was no longer possible on the platform.


9/29/20, 9:10 PM CET

Updated 9/29/20, 9:45 PM CET

Widespread misuse of people’s data to target voters with political advertising ahead of elections is no longer possible on Facebook, according to Nick Clegg, the social networking giant’s vice president for global affairs and communications.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, the former British deputy prime minister said the activities around Cambridge Analytica, the now-defunct British data firm that illegally accessed people’s social media data to target them in a number of elections, could not be replicated because of actions that Facebook had taken over the last two years.

Clegg said that Cambridge Analytica’s tactics, which included illegally using data that had been collected on Facebook users by an academic, had been outlawed on the platform, and that greater checks on who could buy political ads and what was permissible under the company’s own policies had cleaned up much of the wrongdoing.

“The events surrounding Cambridge Analytica are now impossible,” Clegg said when asked by POLITICO if a similar data-gathering operation could take place on the platform. “It is just simply no longer possible for that to happen on Facebook.”

While the Cambridge Analytica scandal focused on the illegal use of Facebook data to pepper voters on the platform with targeted, personalized ads, political operatives are still able to use large databases of people’s digital information, legally obtained, to create detailed advertising campaigns on the social network. Google and Twitter, in contrast, have either banned or significantly curtailed the use of so-called micro-targeting.

When asked if organizations could circumvent Facebook’s checks on who could buy political advertising, Clegg conceded that the company’s safeguards were not perfect.

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica incident, Facebook is also under investigation by Ireland’s data protection agency for how it has handled people’s information, and reached a record $5 billion settlement with U.S. authorities for how the British data analytics firm was misusing people’s data.

Clegg’s defense comes as political operatives are still spending hundreds of millions of dollars on paid-for messaging ahead of the U.S. election in November, according to the company’s own transparency tools. Since 2018, when Facebook first made such advertising figures available, individuals and organizations in the U.S. have spent almost $2 billion on social media adverts. That includes a large number of undisclosed ads still making through Facebook’s systems, according to a recent report by New York University academics.

In Europe, the political spending on social media ads has been significantly lower because of stricter campaign financing rules, privacy rules that limit how people’s data can be used and political parties’ ongoing reluctance to target people online.

When asked if organizations — particularly in the U.S. where campaign financing laws remain relatively lax — could circumvent Facebook’s checks on who could buy political advertising, Clegg conceded that the company’s safeguards were not perfect.

But he added that banning political ads from the platform was unlikely to stop the problem because political operatives would find other ways to target would-be voters online.

“The tempting solution of just banning political ads altogether is not as straightforward as it seems because the huge amount of money that goes into winning campaigns, including Google’s pay-per-click campaign, will find some outlet through most likely other third party groups who will then start trying to hide their intention for running some disguised issue- and political-based ads online,” Clegg said.


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