On Friday, Facebook announced that it had suspended Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) and its political data analysis company, Cambridge Analytica, for violating its Terms of Service, by collecting and sharing personal information of up to 50 million users without Your consent. The incident is a sample of the ways in which the main business model of Facebook can be exploited, that offers personalized announcements to the users, and poses uncomfortable questions about how those data could have been used to influence the 2016 presidential campaign.
Cambridge Analytica is owned in part by hedge fund billionaire Richard Mercer, and helped for the first time the presidential campaign of Senator Ted Cruz in 2015, before helping the Trump campaign in 2016. He promised to attack the "unconscious psychological biases" Voters using large amounts of data develop personality profiles, which could then be used to create extremely specific ads. According to Vox, the Trump campaign brought Cambridge Analytica in June 2016 to help with its digital operations, led by Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The campaign later named Steve Bannon, former vice president of Cambridge Analytica, as campaign manager. Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie recently passed information to The Observer and described the company's work as an "unethical experiment" and said that they exploited Facebook to collect the personal information of millions of people and "built models to exploit what we knew. over them "and point to their inner demons".
An employee of Cambridge Analytica described the work of the company as a "grossly unethical experiment"
The suspension of the two companies came a day before a couple of reports in The New York Times and The Observer on how Cambridge Analytica obtained and used the personal information of 50 million users to design voter profiles to guide political advertising during the 2016 elections. Facebook confirmed that the data came from the professor of psychology at the University of Cambridge, Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, who created an application called "thisisyourdigitallife" in 2015, which was downloaded by 270,000 people. The application gave Kogan permission to access information on user accounts, as well as information about his friends.
Facebook says that "Kogan gained access to this information legitimately and through the appropriate channels that governed all developers on Facebook at that time," but then passed the information to SCL / Cambridge Analytica. Former Cambridge employees revealed to the Times that the firms collected information on more than 50 million users without their consent, which the company used as the basis for "their work on President Trump's 2016 campaign."
Upon discovering that the information was being misused, Facebook removed the application and asked for the information to be destroyed in 2016 when it discovered that Kogan had delivered the information to SCL / Cambridge Analytica, orders that both companies say they complied with. But The Observer says that "Facebook did not request a response when the letter received no response for weeks because Wylie was traveling, nor did he perform forensic checks on his computers or storage." Facebook also did not notify the users whose data was used. by the company, and disputed the description of the incident as a "violation".
According to reports, Facebook did not follow up to confirm that the data had been removed
In addition, while Cambridge Analytica says it destroyed the information in question, The New York Times reports that "it still owns most of the treasure." Cambridge Analytica issued a statement yesterday saying that it had deleted all the data, and that it is working with Facebook to solve the problem.
The company has been under scrutiny by government officials and regulators for its role in the US presidential election. UU., As well as for the Brexit campaign of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union in 2015. In December of 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported that special adviser Robert Mueller asked that the company deliver documents related to the Trump campaign as part of his research on the role played by Russia during the 2016 presidential election, while the House Intelligence Committee interviewed the Cambridge Analytica CEO, Alexander Nix. Following the suspension of Facebook from the two companies, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced on Twitter (via The Hill) that her office was launching an investigation, while other lawmakers said they would like to see Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, testify before congressional committees.
The revelations come after a difficult year for the social media company, which confirmed that political announcements by companies backed by the Russian government were posted on the site, which were viewed by more than 10 million people. Facebook says that the information obtained by Kogan was accessed "in a legitimate manner and through the appropriate channels that governed all developers on Facebook at that time" and that "it has significantly improved our ability to detect and prevent infringements by developers. Applications". , "In the last five years, requiring developers to justify the use of the data they collect". But this incident highlights a key feature of Facebook, to use personal information to deliver specific advertising to individuals, and only serves to underscore a critical weakness in the US electorate: that this information can not only be used to manipulate an election, but can be obtained with relative ease, with few controls.