Facebook Was Letting Down Users Years Before Cambridge Analytica

Article Source: Slate, March 20, 2018
Publication Date:
Time to Read: 2 minute read
Written By:



In 2011, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that Facebook had deceived users about how much data it shared with third-party apps, and how that data was used. Facebook was required to ensure that outsiders did not obtain such data, but failed to do so.


Policy Relevance:

Critics worry that firms can use data from Facebook to manipulate voters. The real problem is that Facebook itself is now using data to influence political campaigns.


Key Takeaways:
  • A firm called Cambridge Analytics used data from Facebook to target more than 50 million Facebooks users, working to help elect a presidential candidate who favors Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • Cambridge Analytica was not stolen or obtained by exploiting a security flaw.
  • The 2012 Obama campaign also used Facebook data to target voters and potential supporters, but few observers objected.
  • From 2010 to 2015, Facebook transferred large amounts of data to outside developers for use in apps like FarmVille; the popularity of these apps helped to enlarge Facebook's user base to 2.2 billion users worldwide.
  • Facebook users consented to apps' use of their data, but were not informed that the apps could access almost all their data and data from their friends, or that outsiders, like Cambridge Analytica, could also obtain the data.
  • The FTC concluded that Facebook had deceived its users, and Facebook agreed to better protect users' data; Facebook undertook to ensure that third parties such as political campaigns and outsiders did not obtain user data.
  • In 2015, Facebook reduced its data sharing with outsiders, but now itself offers political consulting services to political campaigns around the world; Facebook itself, not outside firms like Cambridge Analytica, is now the problem.



Siva Vaidhyanathan

About Siva Vaidhyanathan

Siva Vaidhyanathan is the Robertson Professor of Media Studies. He is also director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia, which hosts a Democracy Lab, produces several podcasts, and the Virginia Quarterly Review magazine.