Cambridge Analytica: What happened?


Cambridge Analytica is a social media intelligence company that has been caught harvesting unsuspecting Facebook users’ data for use in influencing the 2016 US presidential election.

It started with a seemingly innocent personality quiz on Facebook, completely separate from Cambridge Analytica. Against Facebook’s Terms of Service, data collected through this app was then sold to Cambridge Analytica and used to microtarget individuals with content designed to change their political ideology.

While social media data is regularly used to influence political outcomes, this data must be voluntarily surrendered. However, in this instance, the Facebook quiz/app requested permission to access the participant’s data AND all of their friends’ data.

If one person with 500 friends took the quiz, Cambridge Analytica would receive all 501 users’ data - 500 of which never gave permission. This data included Facebook activity such as likes, comments, statuses, etc. and in some cases, private messages or the topics that were spoken about in those private conversations.

In the 2-3 month period that this project was active, Cambridge Analytica gathered data on an estimated 50 million users. The majority of those affected didn’t even have knowledge of the quiz itself.


It goes without saying that this is by no means a standard practical use of social media data.

For example, Beautifeye only collects publicly available data from Instagram through authenticated connections. We follow standard approaches that are used across the social listening industry to collect and store data. We harvest data from Instagram, and not from Facebook - partly due to our adherence to and respect of stricter privacy settings.

We don’t microtarget consumers and we certainly don’t create fake content to manipulate their opinions.

It’s such a shame that Cambridge Analytica resorted to virtually prying personal data from people’s hands. Social listening and research can do so much good, without the need for grossly unethical business practices.

If you’re interested in some real examples research for good, feel free to check out our case studies with the button below.