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Cambridge Analytica, GDPR & Is It Still Safe to Use Facebook Lookalike Audiences?

The Cambridge Analytica scandal is something which has been hard to miss. Cambridge Analytica have come under fire for harvesting the data of millions of Facebook users by a personality quiz app. Many Facebook users and investors have been speaking out and encouraging users to “#DeleteFacebook”, sharing articles on how to permanently delete your Facebook account, and shares have fallen by more than 9%.

How Did They Use The Data?

Cambridge Analytica managed to harvest the data of not only those who took the personality quiz, but their Facebook friends too. A whistleblower of Cambridge Analytica has spoken out, revealing that they had access to everything shared on your Facebook page, and refusing to confirm or deny that they also had access to see your personal private messages.

The data harvested was used to manipulate audiences, share fake news, and swing elections. It is reported that the firm was behind campaigns to promote Trump, such as the “defeat crooked Hillary” ad campaign. Information taken from profiles such as interests, status updates, liked pages, and even to go so far as to what your personality is like, was used to target and share propaganda.

Facebook Lookalike Audiences—Are They Safe?

How is this different to a Facebook Lookalike Campaign? Lookalike campaigns are used within Facebook ad campaigns to ensure an ad is targeted to an audience who is most likely to interact and make the ad campaign worthwhile. This means using personal data, such as email addresses and interests of those who use Facebook.

While there may be a few similarities jumping out at you as some serious concerns, a Lookalike Audience is definitely not a scandal. The data harvested by Cambridge Analytica was taken without the consent of the individual and their Facebook friends. Lookalike Audience data is only taken with consent.

For example, those who took the personality quiz unknowingly shared their own and their friends’ data with Cambridge Analytica, who used this to manipulate and swing a democratic vote. The data was collected through an app, and then used for a completely different reason. As long as the data you have (such as email addresses of those who have previously bought a product) is used in relation to how it was collected, i.e to encourage a second buy, your Lookalike campaign is safe.

What’s The Difference?

Lookalike audience data is hashed and encrypted to become unreadable, and is transformed into a jumble of random numbers in no particular order. This data is untraceable, and cannot be linked back to the original data. This hashed data is then matched to data held within Facebook, and deleted once a match has been made.

Cambridge Analytica were targeting specific people, with specific interests, personalities, and lifestyles across the web. Lookalike audiences target Facebook user audiences only who are similar, but not specifically the same as, those who you hold data for. Lookalike campaign data is exactly that, those who look like but are not those who you hold email addresses for, whereas Cambridge Analytica used their data to target and overall manipulate specific people.

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