Cambridge Analytica and the Meaning of Privacy Harm

In 2014 and 2015, the research company Cambridge Analytica was able to amass a database of information on 87 million Facebook users, based on the survey results of just a few hundred thousand personality quiz participants. The company then used this data to try to get political consulting clients. In her new white paper, Program on Economics & Privacy Director Jane Bambauer argues that while almost everyone agrees that something went wrong here, defining the harm such that it can elucidate the best course for public policy is an exceedingly difficult task.

This issue raises multiple concerns, each deserving of careful consideration, but which have divergent implications for how policymakers should respond. Professor Bambauer’s paper uses the Cambridge Analytica episode to explore why the meaning of a privacy-related harm is so difficult to define and why lawmakers are wise to proceed with caution as they develop new privacy laws.

You can read the full paper here.