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Inevitable Facebook scandal a clarion call for businesses

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The Facebook revelation, that our information was misused by Cambridge Analytica, was inevitable.

As any marketer, businessperson or Facebook user knows, Facebook always has been a demographics diamond mine. Without question, it was the place to go to reach your audience.

The question to ask: Are we surprised that our information was breached?

First, the so-called breach wasn’t the first time Cambridge had access to Facebook’s user information.

Second, the breach doesn’t fit the definition that you know.

Third, the breach might not have been significant if it hadn’t been connected to a national election.

GOING MINING

Cambridge Analytica, a British analytics firm, has three global offices: New York, Washington, D.C. and London.

It does what any marketing department or marketing agency does. It mines information to fine tune the message for its clients, which include businesses and political candidates.

According to its website, it uses data to change audience behavior, which is what marketers do. So why is it so wrong for Cambridge Analytica to buy data and use them to change behavior?

IT’S THE COMBINATION

There are several factors that, taken together, seem to make this behavior improper.

The first is an issue with one of Cambridge Analytica’s principals, Stephen K. Bannon (yes, that Bannon). He denies any knowledge of the Facebook data purchase, placing the blame on the “Cambridge guy,” professor Aleksandr Kogan.

Second, the data purchase. CA is a foreign firm and its participation in the election process was questionable. So say the attorneys who prepared an opinion for the British firm. It also was a problem because CA obtained identities from Facebook.

Yes, a firm has its customers’ identities and uses them to market. The problem with the CA usage was none of the Facebook users were its clients; they were Facebook clients.

THE ‘BREACH’

News accounts of the scandal allege there was a breach, a term that might not be very accurate.

A breach is breaking or failing to observe a law, agreement or code of conduct.

It’s been proven that Cambridge Analytica bought the data it used. There were no firewall breaches, hacks or other illegal methods of obtaining the user data.

But, if you look at the last three words of the definition, code of conduct, you might say, “Not so fast.”

THIRD-PARTY PURPOSES

CA collected the information according to guidelines established under Facebook’s application program interface agreement, which no one reads. Kogan’s application gathered the information it purchased.

It’s what happened after the collection that seems to be the problem. Kogan used the research for third-party purposes, not for research purposes.

To make matters worse, the data collected included the users’ Facebook friends.

WHY IS THE ‘BREACH’ SO BAD?

The breach, for lack of a better word, is a demonstration of how data can be used for nefarious purposes.

It’s also a demonstration of just how much information, you and your friends, share on social networks. And further, just how your information is used by those networks.

The expectation of privacy gets thinner and thinner. In fact, that expectation soon will be eliminated, as marketing shifts once again and focuses on artificial intelligence.

Another reason the breach was so bad, in the public’s eye, is that it involved the U.S. election. Election tampering happens in developing countries. American elections are supposed to be immune to such things.

Well, not necessarily anymore.

DEVELOP GUIDELINES NOW

The level of privacy is rapidly eroding. That’s the lesson from the Facebook scandal.

The information you collect is a privilege and should be treated accordingly.

Finally, more questionable areas are on their way as artificial intelligence plays a bigger part in marketing.

Establishing guidelines now will help you market effectively and mindfully in the future.

Loren Robinson is the owner of Millennia Media LLC, a full-service marketing firm in Stewartsville, N.J., and an attorney with a Master of Business Administration. She can be reached at 908-200-2313 or totalmillennia@gmail.com.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@lvb.com

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