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Law: Facebook and Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal Essay

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Updated: May 4th, 2021

The wide use of technologies we observe nowadays increases the speed of diverse activities digitalisation. Innovative technologies are an integral part of peoples lives as they contribute to the enhanced performance and provide the needed level of comfort. At the same time, there is another side of the problem. Extreme levels of societys digitalisation deprive people of their personal space and privacy.

To a greater degree, it happens because of the mass use of social networks such as Facebook or Twitter that contain gigabytes of information users share with their friends or close people. On the other hand, they might prefer not to share these files with other individuals beyond their social circle. That is why such issues as cybersecurity, data theft, ethics, and privacy acquire the top priority as data social networks contain might be used by malefactors or other companies with diverse purposes. The given paper delves into the case of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, investigates peculiarities of this incident, and applies central concepts of data security, information share, risks, and ethics with the primary aim to attain the enhanced understanding of the problem.


The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica case revolves around the collection of private information of Facebook users to impact their decision-making. The central issue of the given case is an unethical and inappropriate use of data to manipulate the public opinion and monitor oscillations in peoples moods and preferences to gather support regarding a particular issue, policy, or actor (Ingram, 2018).

Additionally, Facebook was blamed for supporting Cambridge Analytica in their actions and collection of personal information which started in 2014 (Ingram, 2018). The scandal triggered the growth of users dissatisfaction with the quality of services suggested to them and the lack of protection that resulted in the leak of information. In the course of numerous investigations, a significant scale of the problem was proven (Ingram, 2018).

The data leak and its further use could have impacted the results of Brexit and the Presidential elections in the USA (The Associated Press, 2018). The head of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, accepts the blame for this accident saying that the companys mistake was to believe that Cambridge Analytica deleted all information it had harvested (The Associated Press, 2018). The case has given rise to several significant concerns that should be discussed.


First, the contradictory character of the case is evidenced by the fact that there are numerous debates whether a cybercrime has been committed or not. Representatives of both opinions provide their arguments to explain the nature of both actors actions and their conduct. However, analysing the case from the perspective of cybercrime and data theft, a definite answer can be obtained. The modern criminology defines a cybercrime as criminal wrongdoing (such as fraud, theft, intellectual property violations, distribution of prohibited materials) committed using electronic devices (Amoore & De Goede, 2005).

Apropos, Facebook – Cambridge Analytica case falls within this definition as the last one used electronic devices to interfere with the functioning of Facebook and collect data that is protected by the law regarding the right for privacy. Additionally, Cambridge Analytica performed these actions to assist particular actors and generate profit by offering information that can be used to gather support (The Associated Press, 2018). It proves that the cybercrime has been committed as there are both the motif and credible evidence of maleficent actions.

Data Theft

The concept of data theft mentioned above can also be used regarding the case. At the moment, there are numerous debates about its defying as the complexity of digital environment along with the existence of many approaches to perform illegal actions results in the lack of consistent current definition of the problem and its basic features (Wall, 2011). However, using the primary motifs for actions of this sort and their consequences, the following definition can be formulated.

Data theft is an illegal, malicious action performed to steal computer-based or digital information from an unknowing user with the intent of violating privacy or acquiring confidential information that will later be sold or utilised (Wall, 2011). In such a way, applying the concept to the suggested case, certain data theft can be noted. Facebook and Cambridge Analytica used the social network users data to share it with a third party and generate revenue. That is why the actions performed by both companies violate the existing legislation regarding the privacy of data, its storing, and distribution.

Nature of Cybercrime

The second concern related to the case is the nature of cybercrime performed by the actors. As it has been mentioned, there is a particular lack of theoretical base regarding illegal acts of this sort. For this reason, characterisation and determination of nature of cybercrime might be challenging. At the moment, researchers distinguish four subtypes which include cyber-trespass, cyber-deception and thefts, cyber-pornography, and cyber-violence (Wall, 2011).

Utilising this approach, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica case can be determined as a cyber-theft that presupposes privacy violations and other illegal actions aimed at the interference with users personal data (Wall, 2011). Numerous criminologists also tend to characterise the nature of cybercrime regarding the socio-structural features of the environment in which they occur and reasons that caused their emergence as these aspects directly impact offenders behaviours and their attitudes towards privacy (Yar, 2005). It means that the nature of the discussed crime can be explained by the existing high demand on pieces of data of this sort and their comparatively easily-accessible character.

Routine Activity Theory

Another meaningful concern raised by the case is the applicability of RAT and its practical utility in terms of cybercrime. The given conception (routine activity theory) presupposes the existence of a direct correlation between crimes and features of the existing environment (Yar, 2005). In other words, RAT investigates illegal actions as an ecological process that arises from the settings (Yar, 2005).

It means that such traditionally topical issues as poverty, inequality, or low incomes are not responsible for the growth of crime and appearance of new crime opportunities. Instead, social shifts, significant reconsiderations of particular processes, or introduction of new technologies contribute to the emergence of new possibilities and, subsequently, stipulate the occurrence of a crime wave (Yar, 2005).

For example, development of metropolises offers limitless opportunities for individuals personal and professional development; but it also creates conditions beneficial for the rise of crime such as overpopulation, high level of incomes, and the existence of social differences. Using RAT in their cogitations about cybercrime and the way it impacts the modern world, criminologists often emphasise the evolution of digital devices as the key factor triggering the development of cyberthreat (Yar, 2005). It proves the high practical utility of the method.

On the basis of RAT definition provided above, its application to the case seems relevant because of the nature of factors touched by the theory. The social context plays a critical role in the accidents assessment. The rapid development of technologies resulted in the increased importance of social networks such as Facebook and their essential role in the modern world. It is a platform used by people to share their perspectives on particular issues and discuss certain events with their friends providing personal information.

At the same time, the high degree of the digitalisation of the society stipulated the emergence of the demand on the utilisation of social media to shape the public opinion (Yar, 2005). In other words, one can observe a socio-cultural context beneficial for the appearance of crimes of this type. The presence of huge amounts of personal data in Facebook created the crime opportunity for Cambridge Analytica and Facebook to use them to satisfy the existing demand for this information and generate revenues. In such a way, the application of RAT to the given case contributes to the enhanced comprehension of the central motifs driving both companies.

Surveillant Assemblage

The next concern raised by the scandal and data leak from Facebook is a so-called surveillant assemblage. The given term is often associated with Orwells Big Brother as surveillant systems provide an opportunity to monitor peoples lives continually using personal data about their movements, preferences, attitudes (Haggerty & Ericson, 2000). The development of technologies contributed to the increased topicality of this issue as the introduction of new more powerful devices promoted the creation of perfect surveillance systems. At the same time, the cooperation between several actors, or an assemblage, guarantees even more comprehensive control (Haggerty & Ericson, 2000).

Specialists admit that the modern social media is an example of a potent surveillant assemblage system as it contains data about peoples location, occupation, social circle, and friends (Haggerty & Ericson, 2000). Possessing this critical information, Facebook, as one of the most popular social network, acquires an opportunity to sell it to other corporations and companies like Cambridge Analytica and create surveillant assemblages providing limitless possibilities to shape peoples mentalities.

Data Doubles

Moreover, working with numerous pieces of data characterising a person, this sort of systems introduces a new phenomenon of data doubles. Surveillant assemblage distracts human bodies from their territorial and local settings and separates them into a series of owns that are then reassembled in diverse locations as virtual data doubles (Haggerty & Ericson, 2000). Criminalists assume that the use of these approaches along with the apparently increasing power of Facebook as a surveillance tool cultivates a new environment characterised by the corrupted institution of privacy and specific hierarchies that should be followed (Haggerty & Ericson, 2000).

Another problem is that “data doubles circulate in a host of different centres of calculation and serve as markers for access to resources, services and power in ways which are often unknown to its referent” (Haggerty & Ericson, 2000, p. 613). Regarding the discussed case, it means that Facebook users data doubles were used without their consent or stolen to create a particular trend or impact certain processes. It evidences the existence of a surveillant assemblage if to speak about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

Big Data

The discussed data leak also triggered vigorous debates about such issues as dataveillance and big data. The implementation of diverse digital devices and innovative solutions in the functioning of fundamental social institutions preconditioned the emergence of voluminous and complex data sets that traditional data-processing software becomes not able to process it (Amoore & De Goede, 2005).

These sets, or Big data, introduced new challenges related to storage, analysis, transfer, sharing, privacy and security (Amoore & De Goede, 2005). For instance, Facebook accepts that the personal information of 50 million Americans became available to companies and agencies that were not allowed to work with it (The Associated Press, 2018). In other words, the case proves the problematic character of Big data and security concerns related to it as due to the unfair and unethical actions, users information was utilised by companies with diverse purposes. It undermines cybersecurity and demonstrates the existence of numerous vulnerabilities related to the given question.


The conception of dataveillance is closely related to Big data and information privacy. The fact is that voluminous information sets might pose a threat to the national security because of the high level of terrorist activity and cybercrimes (Amoore & De Goede, 2005). For this reason, the idea of dataveillance presupposes the monitoring and collecting, or proactive surveillance, of online data with the help of new technologies to identify risky groups and prevent their malicious actions. It includes the continuous analysis of communications, card transactions, emails, and social networks (Amoore & De Goede, 2005).

That is why dataveillance becomes topical for Facebook and its functioning. Being the platform that provides users with an opportunity to share personal information, it might be dangerous because of extremists groups that might use Facebook for organising acts of terror (Amoore & De Goede, 2005). At the same time, the use of dataveillance and unauthorised utilisation of personal data by third companies such as Cambridge Analytica triggers the emergence of privacy and security concerns because from the case it becomes apparent that individuals do not know that their information is used and do want to share it.

Ethics and Risks

Finally, the scandal reveals risk assessment and ethical problems related to the increased significance of social networks and their power in the coherent society. The problem is that their users create a crime opportunity by placing private data and sharing information. However, in accordance with RAT, the given context promotes the emergence of numerous threats to privacy and security concerns (Wall, 2011).

It is also apparent that Facebook and Cambridge Analyticas actions are unethical as they explored pieces of data without their owners consent. At the same time, regarding the tendency towards the further rise of social networks as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook similar data leaks will become inevitable which evidences the necessity of appropriate risk assessment procedures to determine the degree to which these platforms can be safe and evaluate the probability of fraud utilising diverse approaches or digital devices. It will contribute to the minimisation of such security failures, and help to solve some ethical issues as users will be informed about the existing risks and act more carefully.


Altogether, the case of Facebook-Cambridge Analytica perfectly demonstrates the increased power of social networks and touches upon the problem of data and privacy security. The fact is that networks transform into perfect surveillant systems that provide an opportunity to create data doubles and monitor users activity. This information can be sold to third parties interested in utilising it with diverse purposes. That is why the digitalisation of society also gives rise to security concerns that should be solved to protect peoples personal data and ensure that leaks as those described in the case will not occur.


Amoore, L., & De Goede, M. (2005). Governance, risk and dataveillance in the war on terror. Crime, Law & Social Change, 43, 149–173.

The Associated Press. (2018). . CBC. Web.

Haggerty, K., & Ericson, R. (2000). The surveillant assemblage. British Journal of Sociology, 51(4), 605-622.

Ingram, D. (2018). . The Globe and Mail. Web.

Wall, D. (2011). Policing cybercrimes: Situating the public police in networks of security within cyberspace. Police Practice & Research: An International Journal, 8(2), 183-205.

Yar, M. (2005). The novelty of ‘cybercrime’ an assessment in light of routine activity theory. European Journal of Criminology, 2(4), 407-427.

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