Newswise — Reuters reports today (Wednesday, April 4, 2018) that Facebook Inc. said the personal information of up to 87 million users may have been improperly shared with the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, up from previous news media estimates of more than 50 million.

Dr. Mehrdad Koohikamali, a business professor at the University of Redlands, can speak with authority on the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook event and related online privacy issues. 

"The Cambridge Analytica (CA) involvement to help target the right type of people and impact their ultimate decision to vote for a specific candidate is a great example of using behavioral data shared by people—voluntary or involuntary, aware or unaware—to frame the communicative message," Koohikamali says. 

"Many people have already given up their rights to their private information on the digital platform, blindly accepting terms of usage without reading them. 

"I conducted a study using a real mobile application and what we found was quite interesting and scary. Users of a new social networking app, while worrying more at the beginning about sharing their information and using the app, after one month of usage did not worry about their privacy and disclosed their information more freely. The issue is not why CA has acquired users’ data and framed their message, the bigger problem arises for individuals and the whole society when sensors collect information within our households and every behavior is already captured and collected by the sensor we have purchased to make our life a bit easier and enjoyable. People no longer own the information shared to the sensors as soon as they click on the usage agreement and start disclosing their information. Many businesses are already taking advantage of users’ data, but when the political issues are discussed we tend to get hyped more," he says. 

"CA obtained part of the users' data from Facebook, possibly part of it had already been publicly shared on the platform, and then used other resources they obtained to connect dots and pitch their campaign messages differently and more accurately to individuals in different geographical areas.

"We often forget how and why emotional manipulations and misinformation on social media occur. The CA case demonstrated how accurate and intentional some of the messages on social media are designed to affect people’s thoughts and to ride on their emotions."

Dr. Koohikamali holds a Ph.D. and MSc from the University of Texas.