Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and the (Uncertain) Future of Online Privacy

1 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2020

See all articles by Tami Kim

Tami Kim

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Gerry Yemen

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business


This public-sourced case uses Facebook, the legendary social media platform, to unfold circumstances that allow an analysis of the firm's privacy risk around its marketing tools and use of collected consumer data.Although Facebook had made progress on providing users more transparency around how it operated, how policies were enforced, and how shared data has been collected since 2018, challenges persisted—most notably over how to deal with misinformation on Facebook's platform and what to do with efforts to regain public trust. Facebook needed access to user data in order to ensure its advertising revenue source remained profitable. The scandal around user data and Cambridge Analytica leaves the case open to exploring privacy policies, data use, and factors driving consumer concerns regarding their data.The case provides an overview of Facebook's platform and policies that can be used to discuss the responsibility future general managers have to consider privacy and transparency when using consumer data. Had Facebook crossed the line with users over data collection? And what, if anything, should be done about regulators' increasing interest in how the firm conducted business? Although this case was written and taught before the global COVID-19 pandemic struck, it provides an interesting contrast to consumers' attitudes toward trust and legitimacy issues before and after COVID-19.



Jul. 20, 2020

Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and the (Uncertain) Future of Online Privacy

We don't exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, to put it lightly.

—Mark Zuckerberg, May 3, 2019

When it was widely reported that during the 2016 US presidential election, more Facebook users got their news from social media than anywhere else, alarms around unverified news and disinformation rang. Fake news became more widely read than real news items. The commotion got even louder as elected officials and regulators started to investigate the public's growing apprehension around the internet. Accusations of Facebook spreading disinformation, allowing foreign influences in US elections, and even promoting genocide grew. Facebook's contact-importing practices, called “friend permissions,” became a lightning rod for privacy advocates. Yet throughout the turmoil, advertisers continued to favor Facebook over other social media platforms.

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Keywords: digital marketing, user management, customer management, social media, information-based supply chain, fake news, Cambridge Analytica, platform policy, CSR, coronavirus, COVID-19, trust, Target, personal information, politics

Suggested Citation

Kim, Tami and Yemen, Gerry, Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and the (Uncertain) Future of Online Privacy. Darden Case No. UVA-M-0979, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3660467 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3660467

Tami Kim (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Gerry Yemen

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

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