The Roots of the Cambridge Analytica Scandal: How FarmVille helped users become comfortable giving away their Facebook data.
By Lila Thulin
Remember FarmVille? Years before the third-party “personality test” at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, millions of users spent hours cultivating virtual crops on the wildly popular farming simulation game. Your FarmVille fields have probably long gone fallow, but it’s worth revisiting the story of FarmVille’s short-lived popularity because it’s intertwined with our current internet privacy debacle. As an early, viral third-party app, the game helped users become comfortable signing away their social media data with the click of a button....
Now, that’s not to imply that while you were harvesting eggplants, Zynga was improperly harvesting data on your Facebook friends. But what FarmVille did do, according to Jennifer King, a privacy expert at the University of California, Berkeley, was “set the stage.” King, who has researched Facebook users’ privacy-related behavior on third-party apps, said games like FarmVille helped players “get very used to using apps on Facebook with this expectation that it was harmless essentially.” And this precedent for click-of-a-button relinquishment of your data was reinforced by its successors, from Candy Crush to other apps that like Tinder (released in 2012) or Spotify (2011) that allow users to log in through their Facebook accounts. If you haven’t recently checked which third-party apps you’ve given access to your profile, it’s worth doing.
Jennifer King is the Director of Privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society (as of April 2018) and a Ph.D. candidate at the School of Information.