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The Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal was a major political and ethical scandal that happened in early 2018. When it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of millions of people’s Facebook profiles without their consent and used it for political purposes. News articles described it as an unethical moment in the public understanding of personal data and precipitated a massive fall in Facebook’s stock price and called for tighter regulation of tech companies’ use of data.
The scandal began with Aleksandr Kogan, a data scientist at Cambridge University, who developed an app called “thisisyourdigitallife”. This app was provided to Cambridge Analytica and in turn, arranged an informed consent method for research projects in which several hundred thousand Facebook users would have to agree to complete a survey only for academic use. However, Facebook’s design allowed this app to not only collect the personal information of people who agreed to take the survey, but also the personal information of all the people on those users’ Facebook social network. In this way, Cambridge Analytica acquired data from millions of Facebook users. The root cause of this incident was the carelessness of Facebook to allow any company registered over its network, to access consumer data. Facebook used the consumer’s data without taking prior permission from the consumers. This was morally and socially unethical. This privacy crisis needed to be dealt with or else the whole platform of Big Data and consumer confidence will come into trouble.
How it works
After the scandal broke out worldwide on news media, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for the situation with Cambridge Analytica on CNN, calling it an ‘issue’, a ‘mistake’, and a ‘breach of trust’. He reminded the company’s users of their right access to personal data. Since then Facebook has improved its privacy options to let users make their accounts more secure by deleting or hiding the information, they would not like to be shared on the site openly. Facebook also added “New privacy options” that users can select within their accounts. This is possible through a new page added named “Access Your Information”, in which users get to review their activities on the site about what pages they have liked or what and where they have commented with an option to delete such activities.
The magnitude of consequences is the anticipated level of impact of the outcome of a given action (Lev Lafayette, Chapter Five: Ethics and Social Responsibility, November 4, 2009). Facebook failed to follow up with Cambridge Analytica to ensure that the company had fully destroyed the data of Facebook’s users. Their failure to follow up indicates a lack of consideration for the magnitude of consequences. So, in this case, the magnitude of consequences is very high.
Social consensus is society’s level of agreement about the good or bad of an ethical issue faced (Thomas M. Jones, Ethical Decision Making by Individuals in Organizations: An Issue-Contingent Model). Data collection affects billions of people, and consumers expect their data to be protected and only used to their knowledge. Therefore, the social consensus is that data collection is expected to protect users’ privacy and should not fall into the wrong hand or be misused.
The probability of Effect is the chance that something will happen that results in harm to others (Wikipidea.org). Facebook has a moral obligation to protect the private data of users and to eliminate the likelihood of the data collected being leaked and misused. During Facebook’s business dealings with Cambridge Analytica, the probability of effect was not clearly understood by management when they agreed to provide private data to Cambridge. Later, the company and its management were questioned by Congress, users, and the news media which hurt the company’s stock price and user subscriptions.
Temporal immediacy is the time between an act and the consequences the act produces (Lev Lafayette, Chapter Five: Ethics and Social Responsibility, November 4, 2009). Facebook provided private data to Cambridge Analytica starting around 2015 and the consequences of their actions became very public during 2018. Facebook did not expect negative consequences to come from their sharing of private information, so the temporal of immediacy was probably not considered when making decisions.
The proximity of effect is understanding how close are the impacts to consequences (Lev Lafayette, Chapter Five: Ethics and Social Responsibility, November 4, 2009). In the Facebook scandal, the proximity of effect for its users was extremely close. People’s private pictures, thoughts, postings, and religious and political views were shared with a company that used it to gain profit. Mark Zuckerberg was called to testify to congress and his proximity of effect became extremely close as well.
In conclusion, one of the most serious ethical considerations involved in market research is an invasion of privacy. A lack of moral awareness explains Facebook’s decision-making, as it is the first and most critical step in the ethical decision-making process. A failure to consider the objective moral intensity of the issue, possible unethical organization cultural practices, individual factors, and possible ethical fading combine to cause a lack of moral awareness about ethical issues on Facebook’s part.
My recommendation is for data companies to increase their data protection and public disclosures. This is the most ethical option for companies to protect the privacy and security of data of their customers rather than allowing the other companies to use them without the consent of the users. Companies handling customer data should not wait for laws and regulations to restrict them from unethical business practices. Companies should take the initiative to have strict firewalls and definite layers of data protection. This is the ethical theory as protecting the personal data of the users is a professional duty of Facebook
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