Cambridge Analytica accused of harvesting and using personal data

Cambridge Analytica and Facebook are under pressure after being accused of using personal data of 50 million Facebook members to influence US 2016 election • UK's Information Commissioner seeks warrant to look at databases 

Whistleblower Christopher Wylie has revealed his role in hijacking the profiles of millions of Facebook users
Whistleblower Christopher Wylie has revealed his role in hijacking the profiles of millions of Facebook users

The UK’s Information Commissioner has said she will seek a warrant to look at the databases and servers used by British data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica.

The London-based company is accused of using the personal data of 50 million Facebook members to influence the US presidential election in 2016.

Its executives have also been filmed by Channel 4 News suggesting it could use honey traps and potentially bribery to discredit politicians.

READ ALSO: Maltese government categorically denies any contact with Cambridge Analytica

Conservative MP Damian Collins said he would call the heads of both companies, Alexander Nix and Mark Zuckerberg, to give further testimony.

His intervention came after a whistleblower spoke to the Observer and described how the profiles, mostly of US voters, were harvested for Cambridge Analytica, in one of Facebook’s biggest ever data breaches.

The two men may also face a summons from US lawmakers. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, called for Cambridge Analytica to be “thoroughly investigated” and said Facebook must answer questions about how it came to provide private user information to an academic with links to Russia.

The company has so far denied any wrongdoing.

What happened so far

On Monday, Channel 4 News broadcasted hidden camera footage in which Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix appears to suggest tactics the company should use to discredit politicians online.

In the footage, when asked what "deep digging" could be done, Nix told an undercover reporter: "Oh, we do a lot more than that."

He suggested one way to target an individual was to "offer them a deal that's too good to be true and make sure that's video recorded".

He also said he could "send some girls around to the candidate's house..." adding that Ukrainian girls "are very beautiful, I find that works very well".

Nix continued: "I'm just giving you examples of what can be done and what has been done."

Channel 4 News said its reporter had posed as a fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get a political candidate elected in Sri Lanka.

Cambridge Analytica have said the report had "grossly misrepresented" the conversations caught on camera.

"In playing along with this line of conversation, and partly to spare our 'client' from embarrassment, we entertained a series of ludicrous hypothetical scenarios," the company said in a statement.

"Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called 'honeytraps'," it said.

However, there have been reports that Cambridge Analytica is trying to stop the broadcast of a Channel 4 News exposé.

Whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who worked with the company, claimed it amassed the data of millions of people through a personality quiz on Facebook that was created by an academic.

Facebook’s responst

Cambridge Analytica insists it followed the correct procedures in obtaining and using data, but it was suspended from Facebook last week.

However, Facebook will hold an open meeting with its employees later to discuss the matter, tech news website The Verge is reporting.

Facebook said it has hired its own digital forensic team to audit Cambridge Analytica.

"This is part of a comprehensive internal and external review that we are conducting to determine the accuracy of the claims that the Facebook data in question still exists," the firm said.

"If this data still exists, it would be a grave violation of Facebook's policies and an unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments these groups made."

Trump’s Campaign

Trump’s campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in June 2016 and paid it more than $6.2m, according to Federal Election Commission records. It denies using any Facebook data in the campaign.

Shortly before the story broke, Facebook’s external lawyers warned the Observer that it was making “false and defamatory” allegations and reserved Facebook’s legal position.

Facebook denies that the harvesting of tens of millions of profiles by Cambridge Analytica, working with Cambridge academic Aleksandr Kogan and his company Global Science Research (GSR), was a data breach.

It also suspended the whistleblower Chris Wylie from the platform “pending further information” over misuse of data, along with his former employer Cambridge Analytica and its affiliates, and the academic they worked with, Kogan.

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