Facebook confirms Cambridge Analytica stole its data and used it to influence US voters

Pierluigi Paganini March 19, 2018

The commercial data analytics company Cambridge Analytica allegedly used data harvested by Facebook to target US voters in the 2016 Presidential election.

A team of academics had collected a huge amount of user data and shared the information with Cambridge Analytica which is a commercial data analytics company that allegedly used it to target US voters in the 2016 Presidential election.

The news was confirmed by Facebook over the weekend, the researchers used an app developed by the University of Cambridge psychology lecturer Dr. Aleksandr Kogan to collect user data.

The app named “thisisyourdigitallife” is available to users since 2014, it was provided by Global Science Research (GSR) and asked users to take an online survey for $1 or $2. The app requested access to the user’s profile information, and over 270,000 users gave the app permission to use their personal details for academic research.

Facebook confirmed to have “suspended” any business with Cambridge Analytica (CA) and its holding company.

“Aleksandr Kogan requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent.” states the official statement released by Facebook.

“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. In so doing, they gave their consent for Kogan to access information such as the city they set on their profile, or content they had liked, as well as more limited information about friends who had their privacy settings set to allow it.”

The app is a powerful tool to profile users by harvesting information on their network of contacts, its code allowed to collect data from over 50 million users.

Cambridge Analytica tried to clarify its position declaring that it has deleted all data received from GSR when discovered the way they were obtained.

“When it subsequently became clear that the data had not been obtained by GSR in line with Facebook’s terms of service, Cambridge Analytica deleted all data received from GSR,” CA said in a statement.

“No data from GSR was used by Cambridge Analytica as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign.”

According to a report published by The Intercept exactly one year ago, the situation is quite different. The Intercept sustained that Kogan operated on behalf of Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), a military contractor that owns the Cambridge Analytics.

Facebook discovered the activity in 2015 thanks to claims from its users and adopted the necessary measures to force the involved parties in deleting the data from their servers.

“Although Kogan gained access to this information in a legitimate way and through the proper channels that governed all developers on Facebook at that time, he did not subsequently abide by our rules. By passing information on to a third party, including SCL/Cambridge Analytica and Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, he violated our platform policies.” continues the Facebook statement. “When we learned of this violation in 2015, we removed his app from Facebook and demanded certifications from Kogan and all parties he had given data to that the information had been destroyed. Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Wylie all certified to us that they destroyed the data.”

Christopher Wylie, a Kogan’s collaborator, confirmed that data has been used in the US presidential election to profile individuals and influence the final vote. Wylie provided evidence to the New York Times and The Guardian that harvested data had not been destroyed.

Facebook also suspended Wylie’s account as confirmed by the whistleblower via Twitter on Sunday.


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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Cambridge Analytica, Social networks)

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