News broke on March 17th that political data firm Cambridge Analytica gained access to the private profile information of more than 50 million Facebook users with the goal of understanding and influencing voter behavior in the 2016 Presidential election.
Cambridge Analytica was founded by Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon, who became then-candidate Trump’s campaign manager. After being hired by Trump’s 2016 election campaign, the firm obtained private Facebook user data to identify the personalities of American voters and “injected content” (both true and false) to influence their voting behavior in favor of Donald Trump.
The news that private Facebook user data was obtained and used for these purposes has further fuelled concerns about data security and caused confusion over the methods political parties use to persuade voters. The story also raises serious questions about the role of social media data and the how it is collected and used by third parties.
Keeping private data private is something that we think a lot about at Crimson Hexagon. Since the Cambridge Analytica story broke, we have received questions from journalists, customers, and prospective customers about how we obtain social data and how our platform analyzes it.
The most common question to date has been from our own employees, who want to be accurate and transparent when answering these questions.
That question is:
Does Crimson Hexagon collect private social media user data like Cambridge Analytica?
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The crux of the answer is:
- Crimson Hexagon only collects publicly available social media data that anyone can access
- Crimson Hexagon does not collect private social media data
Over the past few days we’ve received other questions about Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, and Crimson Hexagon’s methods for collecting and analyzing social media data. Here are the top 5:
(We’ll be adding new questions here as the story unfolds.)
Why are Facebook and Cambridge Analytica under scrutiny?
Cambridge Analytica gained access to the private Facebook profile information on more than 50 million users. That data was used to identify the personalities of American voters in order to determine the best ads to influence their voting behavior. Cambridge Analytica is under scrutiny for how they obtained the private user data and Facebook is under scrutiny for not adequately protecting that private user data and for not disclosing this misuse of private data.
How did Cambridge Analytica gain access to the private data of Facebook users?
This is still not entirely clear, but the New York Times reported that Cambridge Analytica obtained the private user data from an outside researcher who provided it to them in violation of his own agreement with Facebook.
Does Crimson Hexagon collect private profile data on Facebook users?
No. Crimson Hexagon only collects and analyzes publicly available Facebook data from public brand pages. We do not collect private information on individual Facebook users.
Does Crimson Hexagon collect any private user data from any social media platform?
No. Across all social media platforms, Crimson Hexagon only collects and stores publicly available data that any routine user of that platform could access on their own. (More info on our data here: Crimson Hexagon’s Data Library)
What information does Crimson Hexagon use to analyze audiences?
Crimson Hexagon’s audience analysis calculates the demographics and interests of large, aggregated audiences. For example, Crimson Hexagon can estimate the demographics and interests of users who are discussing a specific tv show or sports team. This estimation is entirely based on publicly available data. No private user social data is collected or used for audience analysis. When looking at audience analysis results (demographics and interests), no data on individual users is available. When an audience is too small, it can’t be analyzed.
(More info on our audience analysis capabilities here: Crimson Hexagon’s Audience Analysis)
For analysis on this and other current news stories, check out The Crimson Post: