Friday 23rd March

With the UK-Russia diplomatic crisis boiling over, it was going to take a big news story to knock this off the front pages…enter stage left Chris Wylie. Wylie lifted the lid on his former employer, data firm Cambridge Analytica, revealing their misuse of Facebook data – revelations that have sparked debate on the use of personal information stored online.

Alice Hawken gives her take on the week that was. 

Issue of the Week – Cambridge Analytica Scandal

In a damning account, Wylie told the Observer: “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. This was the basis the entire company was built on”. Sobering stuff.

Reports have focussed on Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in President Trump’s campaign, which exploited data from 57 million profiles. Now suspended CEO, Alexander Nix, was caught bragging that his firm “did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting” for Team Trump. Cambrige Analytica also launched a ‘ruthless bid’ to sway the vote in Nigerian elections, amongst many others.

Things went from bad to worse for the firm on Tuesday when Channel 4 published a secretly filmed video of Alexander Nix making a number of admissions about the use of shadowy front companies, sub-contractors and digging up material on political opponents.

What has the reaction been:

Although Cambridge Analytica and its practices have been condemned universally by both press and politicians, in many ways this has been a much tougher week for Facebook.

Shares plummeted following the revelations of the data breach and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was forced to apologise on Wednesday. In a public statement, Zuckerberg said “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you”.

On Wednesday #DeleteFacebook was trending on Twitter, and a number of outlets posted instructions for users who felt not enough had been done to protect their data. Although undoubtedly worrying for Zuckerberg, he told The New York Times that he had not seen “a meaningful number of people act on that”.

What does it mean for the UK:

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matt Hancock, described the revelations about the use of data as a “turning point” in the debate about online privacy. Hancock also suggested that the proposed Data Protection Bill might be amended in the wake of the scandal.

The data privacy debate is one that is often hard to grasp – but the scandal has provided the public with tangible evidence of what our interactions online can mean and how our data can be weaponised.

Campaign Watch – #knifefree

This week the Home Office launched an advertising campaign to reduce knife crime among young people following warnings of a stabbing epidemic in London. The campaign will target 10-21-year olds on social media and digital TV channels featuring real cases using the hashtag #knifefree.

The campaign forms part of the Government’s forthcoming serious violence strategy and comes as the number of fatal incidents in the capital has doubled compared with the same period last year.

The week ahead

In a marked change in tone from its language earlier this week, the European Council issued a joint statement on Friday which said that Kremlin was “highly likely” to be responsible for the nerve agent attack in Salisbury and that there was “no plausible alternative explanation”. An important victory for Prime Minister Theresa May, this is a row that shows no signs of cooling any time soon.

Headline of the week

The Telegraph: “Mark Zuckerberg speaks but is it too late to say sorry?”

The week in a tweet

“This is a serious moment for the web’s future. But I want us to remain hopeful. The problems we see today are bugs in the system. Bugs can cause damage, but bugs are created by people, and can be fixed by people.” – Sir Tim Berners-Lee

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