Facebook Data May Have Been Illicitly Used for Politics, and It Started With a Quiz

The case shows how widely data can spread without consumers' knowledge

Closeup of Facebook logo on the Facebook website. Photo: iStock

An emerging scandal in which Facebook data may have been used illicitly to target political messages has a lot to teach consumers about privacy on social media.

The data apparently was collected through one of those quizzes that can seem to colonize users’ Facebook feeds. In this case, it was a personality quiz called “thisisyourdigitallife,” devised by Aleksandr Kogan, a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge.

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The New York Times has reported, and Facebook has confirmed, that Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm that worked for the campaigns of Ted Cruz and then Donald Trump, acquired data from a company associated with Kogan on about 50 million Facebook users, without their permission.

Only about 270,000 people took the quiz after logging in with their Facebook credentials, but that opened the door to the collection of data about many of their Facebook friends.

CEO of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix speaks at the 2016 Concordia Summit
Cambridge Analytica, led by CEO Alexander Nix, has focused on using psychographic data for political campaigns.

Bryan Bedder GettyImages-607814926 Bryan Bedder GettyImages-607814926

Jerry Beilinson

I'm a writer, techno-observer, and sort of futurist who joined Consumer Reports in 2014. I come armed with a variety of tools, from vintage tablets to backcountry skis to soldering irons to chainsaws. (For editing, I prefer a scalpel.) I like data to be encrypted, the net to be neutral, and technology to be simple to use.