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It doesn’t seem like Facebook was secretly hacked by cybercriminals – so what happened? The company Cambridge Analytica created a third party app that could gather the Facebook data of its users, with their consent, and the data of those users’ friends. The company paid thousands of users to take a questionnaire using the app, which ultimately harvested the data of 50 million users. The data was then used to identify psychological patterns, for example by analysing ‘likes’. This data was then used to create personalised advertising campaigns by targeting individuals based on their personality types.
However, Facebook’s policy stated that the data of users’ friends was only be used for the purposes of improving user experience on Facebook itself. Using the data for other purposes, including advertising, was barred. So in a nutshell, a third party was able to obtain personal data that was used in a manner outside of its allowed usage. From a data protection point of view, Facebook should have had better controls in place to ensure this couldn’t happen.