The Psychology Behind Facebook’s Data Breach

How Does Facebook Use Data

The Cambridge Analytica- Facebook data has probably flagged up on your radar. 87 million of us have had our Facebook data leaked by Facebook to Cambridge Analytica and today we found out who the victims are.

Facebook will send out two notifications today- one to those whose data has been breached and one to those who are safe. The notification, labelled “Protecting Your Information” will also contain a link that will show you the apps you use and the information you are sharing with each app. For those who have fallen prey to Cambridge Analytica, your notification will also be explain that you or your friends used Facebook to log into the app This Is Your Digital Life.

This personality quiz app was created in 2014. The app harvested the data of all who took the quiz but also that of their friends. But just how is it using your data and that of your friends’?

Cambridge Analytica used an impressively accurate algorithm that is capable of psychologically profiling you based on your Facebook interactions using the Big Five Personality theory.


What is the Big Five Personality Theory?

Firstly, what is personality? Well to you and I, it is what makes you you- the good, the bad, the ugly and the quirks that go with it. In psychology, it’s a tad more complex… it is *use clever voice here* “the coherent pattern of affect, cognition, and desires (goals) as they lead to behavior” (Personality Project, Revelle 2003) or “individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving” (American Psychology Association).

The Big Five Personality theory looks at, you’ve guessed it, five personality traits:

  • Openness to experience
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism


How accurate is the algorithm?



Based on 10 likes, the algorithm can more accurately correctly guess your personality type than your colleagues. With 150 likes. It is more accurate than your parents and with 300 it’s more accurate than your partner! However, this app doesn’t just understand who you are based on your likes, it also looks at your stats updates, videos and photos, shares, even privates messages sent through Facebook Messenger. Spooky, eh!


How Do Facebook Marketers use your information?

Once the clever algorithm understands your personality type, marketers can tailor adverts that are likely to appeal to your personality type. The adverts are tailored to your innermost fears, needs and emotions. The adverts may be promoting the same product or service and contain the same call to action, it’s just the way it’s presented will be specifically created to trigger the right buttons to appeal to your personality type.

Good Facebook Marketers don’t create generic adverts. Effective marketing campaigns are hyper-relevant, they are tailored to the profile of the group of people you are targeting. Having said this, you do not have to work unethically and I suspect the debate around how brands use people’s data is a debate that will not end any time soon.

If you want to find out more about how Splash Creative London creates hyper-relevant ethical ad campaigns, get in touch here.

Author: Seena Shah

Seena Shah is the Founder and Director of Splash Creative London. Seena is listed as one of the top 50 women under 30 in digital by The Drum and has built an impressive career in social media marketing and digital strategy.

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