Facebook Suspends Cambridge Analytica For Exploiting Data Of 50 Million Users In Trump Campaign Efforts
Facebook has suspended Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) and its political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, while it investigates claims that it did not delete personal data of Facebook users like it was supposed to. The analytics firm worked on Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign in an effort to target and sway potentially tens of millions of voters.
It is a messy situation, one that has led to reports of Facebook suffering a security breach. Facebook denies that is how things went down, saying that is "completely false" and that its users knowingly provided their personal information to a third-party app.
"No systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked," Facebook stated in a blog post.
So what's the big hubbub all about? In 2015, Facebook learned that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan "lied" to the social network and violated its Platforms Policies by sharing data from an app that was using Facebook Login to SCL/Cambridge Analytics.
"He also passed that data to Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, Inc. Like all app developers, Kogan requested and gained access to information from people after they chose to download his app. His app, 'thisisyourdigitallife', offered a personality prediction, and billed itself on Facebook as 'a research app used by psychologists'. Approximately 270,000 people downloaded the app," Facebook says.
Facebook claims that although Kogan gained access to the information in a legitimate way, he subsequently did not abide by the company's rules when he shared that info. This ultimately led Facebook to change its policies—apps that request user data now have to go through Facebook's App Review process, which requires developers to justify why they need the data and how they plan to use it.
Though the policies have since changed, Cambridge Analytics has drawn Facebook's ire because it has reason to believe the data collection agency did not destroy the harvested data as it was instructed to, and as it agreed to do.
"Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted. We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims. If true, this is another unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments they made. We are suspending SCL/Cambridge Analytica, Wylie and Kogan from Facebook, pending further information," Facebook said.
The issue might be bigger than Facebook is letting on. Former Cambridge Analytica employees told The New York Times that the data collection firm had accessed private information from more than 50 million Facebook profiles, and did so without their permission. This is where the report of a breach originates from.
"Rules don’t matter for them. For them, this is a war, and it’s all fair. They want to fight a culture war in America. Cambridge Analytica was supposed to be the arsenal of weapons to fight that culture war," Cambridge Analytica founder Christopher Wylie told NYT in regards to the company's leaders.
For its part, the Trump campaign maintains that it used the Republican National Committee (RNC) to access voter data when Trump was elected, and not Cambridge Analytica.