In March, it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a U.K.-based data-mining firm, used Facebook to collect demographic information on tens of millions of Americans. This firm has ties to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. Reports state that the information was collected via an app which gave developers access to data such as photos, work histories, birthdays, and religious and political affiliations. This was all revealed after the indictment of 13 Russians and three companies which unveiled a network designed to manipulate the same campaign. These controversies have sparked a conversation about the ethics of data mining.
The Cambridge Affair
Facebook granted permission to University of Cambridge psychology professor Aleksandr Kogan to collect information from users who downloaded his app in 2014. Through his app, thisisyourdigitallife, users were paid to take a detailed personality test for academic research purposes. This app was linked to Facebook and did not violate any policy terms until the app began pulling data from the users’ Facebook friends. This data, which included up to 87 million profiles, was then sold to Cambridge Analytica who in turn used the data to manipulate Facebook users during the Trump campaign. In 2015, Facebook learned of the violation and immediately removed the app. They demanded certifications that all data had been destroyed. Although they received the certifications, not all the data was actually deleted.
Robert Mercer, a wealthy Republican donor, invested $15 million in Cambridge Analytica in order to influence American voters during the election. Mercer worked alongside Steve Bannon, a key Trump advisor. Cambridge provided a variety of services to the Trump campaign including designing target audiences for digital ads, modeling voter turnout, buying $5 million in television ads, and determining where Trump should visit to gain more supporters.
The Russian Angle
In 2014, Russians working for a firm named the Internet Research Agency began online focus groups relating to religion and immigration and soon gained American followers. In 2015 they began purchasing digital ads to target these followers and gain support for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. In February this year, 13 Russians and three companies were indicted regarding these actions. The 37-page indictment includes details of how the Russians utilized Facebook, and other social media platforms, to manipulate the campaign using divisive issues. According to the indictment, Russian conspirators wanted to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in American democracy.
The Russian computer specialists created hundreds of social media accounts and posted as Christian activists, anti-immigration groups, and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. Other Russians from the Internet Research Agency ran data analysis and were in charge of graphics. According to detailed instructions found in the indictment, their task was to undermine Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been under scrutiny since the release of these scandals. The hashtag #DeleteFacebook has been trending on Twitter. Zuckerberg had to testify on Capitol Hill and when asked if he would commit to changing default settings to minimize data collection, he was unable to give a yes or no answer. During one of the hearings, the acting CEO of Cambridge Analytica stepped down and Facebook shares dipped slightly.
Research This Topic in HeinOnline
There are a few different ways to search this topic in HeinOnline. Let’s begin by entering the Law Journal Library. Use the Full Text tab and enter “internet security” AND “data mining” into the box provided and click the search button.
Within results, find relevant articles pertaining to this topic such as:
- Your Hard Drive is Almost Full: How Much Data Can the Fourth Amendment Hold
- The Facebook Frontier: Responding to the Changing Face of Privacy on the Internet
- A User’s Perspective on Privacy and the Web
- A Model Regime of Privacy Protection
While sifting through results, users can also utilize the More Like This button to find similar articles. For example, take a look at the article, Comprehensive Data Privacy Legislation: Why Now is the Time. Click on the More Like This button, which uses a program that pulls out “interesting words” as determined by an algorithm from the article being viewed.
Adjust the boost factors of the interesting words, add a new term, or select a data range to change the scope of results.
Next, let’s run another search. Enter “Mark Zuckerberg” AND Facebook into the Full Text tab of the Law Journal Library and click the search button.
Refined results include relevant articles such as:
- The FTC and the New Common Law of Privacy
- Big Data Ethics
- Taking Trust Seriously in Privacy Laws
- Illiberal Democracy: The Toxic Mix of Fake News, Partisan Election Administration
- Real Talk about Fake News: Towards a Better Theory for Platform Governance
Next, navigate to the U.S. Congressional Documents database. Using the Full Text tab enter Facebook AND privacy and click the search button.
Lastly, let’s search using the Subjects tools found under the Catalog tab in HeinOnline. This subject coding is at the title level and can be used to browse subjects and look for documents on a specific subject.
Enter the phrase data mining into the search box. Results include all titles in HeinOnline that are subject coded as data mining such as: