Facebook Data Breach Essay

  • Last Edited: April 29, 2018
facebook data breach essay

In this Facebook data breach essay, we discuss how Facebook allowed applications to mine user data.  The essay will explain what data was breached, how it was breached, and how that data was used.  Furthermore, the essay will also discuss the repercussions of the breach, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s hearing in front of the United States Senate, issues involving Cambridge Analytical, and information that is being revealed about additional data breaches.

In addition to explaining the data breach, the essay will also discuss whether Facebook has a responsibility to users to keep data safe, and the steps that Facebook is taking to resolve data breaches in the future.  This example essay should not only provide you with an overview of the Facebook data breach, but also provide you with a technical guide on how to write an academic essay.  It will include the following parts of a standard academic essay: introduction, thesis statement, evidence and analysis in body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Related Topics

Cambridge Analytical- Cambridge Analytical is a British consulting firm that specializes in harvesting voter data from voter internet usage.  Cambridge Analytical has played a significant role in the Facebook security breach because of its role in mining data from Facebook users, where it inappropriately collected data from over 50 million Facebook users.   An essay focusing on Cambridge Analytical would examine the company’s history, board of directors, role in prior elections, and role in the Facebook scandal.

Cybersecurity and Social Media- Cybersecurity refers to being protected against both criminal and unauthorized use of data that you share to use internet sites.  Although generally used in the context of identity theft, it is important to realize that cybersecurity also refers to unauthorized usage.  This essay would discuss whether social media platforms have a responsibility to provide security to their users, and, if they do, what type of repercussions should exist if they fail to provide that security.

Election Influencing and the Internet-  This topic would discuss how social media can be used to influence elections.  While the use of propaganda to influence elections has occurred for many centuries, the advent of social media makes it much easier to influence popular opinion, and, therefore, influence elections.  This is especially true for foreign countries or powers seeking to influence another country’s electoral process.

Essay Titles

Facebook Data Breach

Understanding Social Media and Internet Security: The Facebook Data Breach

Does Mark Zuckerberg Owe You Privacy?

The Facebook Data Breach is Unethical, but Is It Illegal?


I.  Introduction

II.  Body

a.  What happened in the Facebook data breach.

b.  How Facebook should be responsible for protecting users’ data.

c.  Zuckerberg’s Senate Hearing

d.  Cambridge Analytical and other data leaks

e.  Steps Facebook is going to take to resolve/prevent this issue in the future

III.  Conclusion- The long term effects this breach will have on the tech companies that collect your data


In early 2018, it became public knowledge that all Facebook users may have been exposed to having their personal data harvested by firms, including Cambridge Analytical, which use this data to help develop profiles.  Some of these profiles are user profiles, others are marketing, but the most widely recognized usage it to develop profiles of voters or potential voters, in order to target information or misinformation for those voters.  While many are calling it a data breach or a security breach, that term is an oversimplification.  This is because the terms of usage of Facebook, like those for most social media platforms, requires you to agree to sharing your information.  However, at the heart of the issue was the fact that the firms that collected information did not just do so by collecting information on users who opted to share their information with these outside servicers, but also anyone who was Facebook friends with those people.

Essay Hook

Although people are discussing a Facebook data breach, what is really at issue is the level of personal data security users should expect from Facebook and other social media platforms and whether these platforms have a responsibility to protect user data.

Thesis Statement

Although Facebook’s terms and conditions may make it clear that user information may be shared, by allowing third parties to access user data for users who did not opt into those services, their data sharing went beyond what a reasonable user would have assumed when agreeing to those terms and conditions.


What Happened in the Facebook Data Breach?

The Facebook data breach differs from what one typically thinks of when thinking about a data or security breach, because it did not involve hackers breaking into a security system to illegally access user data.  In fact, Facebook has not classified it as a data breach, despite the fact that “the U.K. firm Cambridge Analytical obtained information about 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge” (Glum).  How were they able to obtain this information?  A researcher built Facebook personality quiz, which required participants to download an app.  Part of the quiz required users to give him access to their friends’ data.  A little over a quarter-of-a-million people used the application, which gave the researcher access to around 50 million profiles.  The researcher then turned over the information to Cambridge Analytical, which then used it to build profiles for political research.  Facebook does not characterize it as a data breach, because they do not believe that the use violated the user terms that all users agree to for Facebook.  They insist that all users of the application consented to the use.  However, others argue that those who consented should not have had the right to consent on behalf of their friends.

How Facebook Should Be Responsible for Protecting Users’ Data

Although Facebook has not been willing to label the incident a data breach, it does acknowledge that it is an issue.  However, it may not be an issue that is covered by laws.  Theoretically, it is covered by international treaty.  “The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights already includes a right to privacy, as does the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (Schackelford).  However, these international treaties are not enforceable and may not have analogous laws in various member states.  They do establish a good baseline for what Facebook, and other social media platforms, could and should do to protect user data.  Facebook could be an industry leader in protecting user data.  After all, it has an overwhelming share of the social media marketplace, and, if it wants to retain that share, it needs to take steps to protect user privacy.

Zuckerberg Senate Hearing

In response to news of the breach, the Senate held hearings on Facebook security.  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appeared at those hearings to explain how the data was breached and what steps Facebook would take to prevent future breaches.  However, “Mark Zuckerberg emerged unscathed from Tuesday’s Senate committee hearing, and he did so in large part because most of the senators who asked him questions had no clue how Facebook worked, what the solution to its problems are, or even what they were trying to achieve by calling its CEO to testify, other than getting some good soundbites in” (Byers).  Unfortunately, this farce of a hearing did little to explain how the data was obtained, how the data was used, and, most importantly, how the usage of that data may have impacted elections.

Cambridge Analytical and other Data Leaks

While many people are focusing on the fact that Facebook allowed access to user data, what is more alarming is how Cambridge Analytical and other data agencies used that information.  Cambridge Analytical used an algorithm that enabled it to psychologically profile people using only their interactions on Facebook.  They based this on the Big Five Personality Test, which scores people on five core traits.  Taken together, these five core traits can not only reveal a substantial amount about people, but even political leanings.  This personality profile can then be used to determine what type of information and advertising is likely to persuade certain groups of people.  Cambridge Analytical them employed specific types of advertising to use with specific personality types, maximizing on how those personality types would respond to the use of fears, needs, and emotions in that advertising.  Employed by Donald Trump as part of his election strategy for the 2016 Presidential Election, Cambridge was able to target pro-Trump advertising towards people with a specific profile, intentionally harnessing fears, such as the fear of losing any rights under the Second Amendment or the fear of immigrants, to push people to vote for Trump.  This use of advertising and even propaganda in an election is not unprecedented; what was unprecedented was the ability to specifically target ads based on personality profiles.  This is believed to have had a significant influence on the 2016 election; although Hillary Clinton was a clear winner in terms of the popular vote, Trump was able to maximize a very small number of votes in key swing states in order to secure the electoral vote.

Steps Facebook Is Taking to Resolve/Prevent This Issue

According to Zuckerberg, Facebook intends to prevent this type of data “issue” in the future by voluntarily implementing the protections contained in the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation.  Instead of waiting until it is compelled, by law, to give users these protections, it will self-implement them.  In addition, Facebook is discussing increasing transparency in political advertisement.  Perhaps most importantly, Facebook is researching how it has influenced elections; some of the failure to better regulate how is user data was used to influence elections may have been the result of failing to understand just how effective a relatively small amount of data could be in personality profiling.


By getting access to a huge number of Facebook profiles through Facebook friends providing access to their friends’ information, a researcher was able to collect information on over 50 million Facebook users.  In fact, as of April, 2018, it was believed that up to 87 million users may have experienced data breach due to Cambridge, though the total number of compromised users may actually be much higher.  Combining profile results with a well-established psychological profiling tool, the Big Five personality test, allows a researcher to predict a Facebook user’s personality with relatively little information.  When employed by a company like Cambridge Analytical, which uses that information to target political advertising to certain groups, it has proven to be a very effective way to influence elections.  However, because the process does not seem to have been fully understood by Facebook, much less by the legislators in the United States that would be responsible for laws governing the use of this information, not only does it appear that this use of data was completely legal, but also that there is not real remedy for the use of that information, even to influence elections.  Instead, efforts must be made to prevent that type of action in the future.

Works Cited

Byers, Dylan.  “Senate Fails its Zuckerberg Test.”  Money.  11 April 2018. http://money.cnn.com/2018/04/10/technology/senate-mark-zuckerberg-testimony/index.html.  Accessed 27 April 2018.

Glum, Julia. “Was your Facebook Data Actually ‘Breached?’  Depends on Who You Ask.” Money.  22 March 2018.  http://time.com/money/5210825/facebook-data-breach-experts/.  Accessed 27 April 2018.

Shackelford, Scott.  “Facebook’s Social Responsibility Should Include Privacy Protection.” The Conversation.  12 April 2018.  http://theconversation.com/facebooks-social-responsibility-should-include-privacy-protection-94549.  Accessed 27 April 2018.


After reading this Facebook data breach essay, you should have a greater understanding of what type of Facebook data was taken, how it was acquired, who used it, what they used it to accomplish, how Facebook is responding, and how Zuckerberg testified in front of the Senate.  Additionally, the essay has outlined appropriate structure for an academic expository essay.  Given that updates to the Facebook data breach information were occurring regularly at the time this essay was written, it is possible that details and information may have changed by the time you read this essay. If you have any questions about the Facebook data breach or how to write an essay about it, please contact us for assistance.

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