Trump Election Data Firm Harvested Data from 50 Million Facebook Profiles

March 21, 2018
Anna Hubbel
President Trump with Steven Bannon, photo courtesy of Time.com

Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that worked for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, harvested personal information from 50 million Facebook profiles.

Russian-American academic Aleksandr Kogan gathered private information from Facebook users in mid-2014 for his app thisisyourdigitallife. Kogan told Facebook he was using the data for research. It was later discovered by the social media company that he gave the data to Cambridge Analytica to serve political ads to US voters based on their personality traits and Facebook activity. By distributing his data to a third party, he violated Facebook’s terms.

When Facebook first discovered the leak in 2015, Cambridge Analytica agreed to delete the information it collected and gave every indication that it had. However, the firm did not delete the data, continuing to misuse it.

Facebook publicly responds to the data breach by renaming it a misuse of private information because, according to the social network, “no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”

Many of the scientists who collected the data under the employment of Cambridge and parent-firm Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), according to the Times and New York Magazine, were foreigners. They were primarily Canadian and European, with SCL based in London. As such, the case may qualify as a violation of US election law. Cambridge Analytica, however, denies this claim, telling the Times that “personnel in strategic roles were US nationals or green card holders.”

Robert Mercer, a conservative billionaire, is an investor in Cambridge Analytica and Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former advisor and chairman of Breitbart News Network, is the former vice president.

According to an article by The New York Times, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie said, about the founders of Cambridge Analytica, “Rules don’t matter for them. For them, this is a war, and it’s all fair.” He added, “They want to fight a culture war in America. Cambridge Analytica was supposed to be the arsenal of weapons to fight that culture war.”

Robert Mercer with daughter, Rebekah. Robert Mercer is a part owner of Cambridge Analytica.The Consequences
Facebook Suspends Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group

Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica and SCL, as well as Wylie and Kogan, from using its platform.

“We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information,” Facebook said in its announcement of the suspension. “We will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens. We will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior.”

American and British Lawmakers Demand Answers from Facebook

In its response to public criticism and the American and British lawmakers who now demand answers, Facebook says it had every reason to believe that the data had been destroyed back in 2015.

“When we learned of this violation in 2015,” said Facebook, “we removed [Kogan’s] 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.”

Facebook also says it has improved its security significantly since 2014 when the collection of personal data by the firm first began. In addition to requiring apps requesting personal user information to undergo an app review process, the network says users now have more control over their privacy.

“In 2014, after hearing feedback from the Facebook community, we made an update to ensure that each person decides what information they want to share about themselves, including their friend list. This is just one of the many ways we give people the tools to control their experience. Before you decide to use an app, you can review the permissions the developer is requesting and choose which information to share. You can manage or revoke those permissions at any time.”

Facebook added that the company now regularly conducts both manual and automated checks to ensure policy compliance and to prevent misuse going forward. “These include steps such as random audits of existing apps, along with the regular and proactive monitoring of the fastest growing apps,” said Facebook.

Lawmakers demand that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg step forward and directly answer questions regarding his company’s perceivable inability to prevent misuse of the platform.

Facebook’s Stock Dropped

According to Time, Facebook’s stock suffered the biggest drop since 2015. The drop fluctuated between five and eight percent over the past few days. If headlines continue to place Facebook in a negative light, or if another scandal emerges, the company may see more stocks drop in the future.

Facebook just can’t seem to pull away from the lasting effects of Russian interference during the 2016 US Presidential Election. Ever since the country learned that Russian troll accounts distributed politically divisive ads on Facebook, it’s been one negative headline after another. National investigations have since ensued, and Facebook repeatedly comes out the other side as the common denominator: misused, abused, and manipulated.

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