Facebook witnessed a sharp dip in its share value in the wake of the massive “data breach” scandal involving British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica. The company, reportedly, misused information inappropriately gained from 50 million Facebook users to manipulate its client Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Cambridge Analytica, however, has denied any wrongdoing on its part in regard to the alleged breach.
According to Facebook, Aleksandr Kogan, a Cambridge University professor, used an app on its platform to collect information from 270,000 Facebook users on the pretext of a “personality test” – which the users volunteered for – and then, in a clear breach of trust, shared the data with Cambridge Analytica, which, in turn, used it to unfairly benefit Trump’s 2016 campaign. Not only that, Kogan even shared the data of the volunteers’ friends. The news was first reported by the New York Times.
“The claim that this is a data breach is completely false,” Facebook vice president and General Counsel Paul Grewal said on Saturday. “Aleksandr Kogan requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent. People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”
The alleged breach has not gone down well with both U.S. and U.K. authorities.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey made it clear through online posts that an investigation into the blatant breach was being initiated, while British Parliament member Damian Collins has indicated that he would be speaking to Analytica head Alexander Nix to testify as to why he had incorrectly told the MPs in February that his company had not accessed user data from Facebook.
— Maura Healey (@MassAGO) March 17, 2018
— Damian Collins (@DamianCollins) March 19, 2018
Collins also made it clear that Mark Zuckerberg will be called on to testify on the possibility of the social media manipulation having influenced the 2016 Brexit vote.
House Intelligence committee top Democrat Adam Schiff has demanded that Analytica be “thoroughly investigated” and has said that Facebook must explain how and why information of millions of users ended up with Kogan, who then made it available to Analytica.
While the Republican majority on the House intelligence committee has arrived at the conclusion that there was no Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections, Schiff has denounced the decision, saying that the Democratic minority would continue its crusade against such activity in the interest of the nation.
“This raises serious questions about the level of detail that Cambridge Analytica knew about users, whether it acquired that information illegally and whether it sought to abuse that information in support of President Trump’s political campaign in the United States or Brexit in the United Kingdom,” Schiff reportedly told the Guardian.
“The company has repeatedly touted its ability to influence voters through ‘psychographic’ targeting and has claimed it was the fundamental reason that Donald Trump won the 2016 election.
Indeed, it may be that through Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign made use of illegitimately acquired data on millions of Americans in order to help sway the election,” he added.
Facebook has suspended the account of whistleblower Chris Wylie and his former employer Cambridge Analytica and its associates, as well as the academic Kogan from its platform, “pending further investigation.”
Wylie, however, has said that it wasn’t fair of Facebook to publicly attack him when he was actually trying to help in the investigations into the breach, accusing the social site of having knowledge of all that was happening, and yet sitting on the matter for two years.
“They acknowledged my offer but then turned around and shot the messenger. I’m trying to make amends for my mistakes and so should Facebook,” Wylie is believed to have told the Guardian.
“Facebook has known about this for at least two years and did almost nothing to fix it. This is not new. And it’s only by coming forward that Facebook is now taking action. People need to know this kind of profiling is happening.”
Damian Collins has been scathing in his attack on Facebook, calling for additional information from the tech giant in regards to the breach and the circumstances surrounding it.
“Data has been taken from Facebook users without their consent and was then processed by a third party and used to support their campaigns. Facebook knew about this, and the involvement of Cambridge Analytica with it,” he said.
We need to hear from people who can speak about Facebook from a position of authority that requires them to know the truth,” said Collins. “Someone has to take responsibility for this. It’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to stop hiding behind his Facebook page.”
It was only Nix who lied in front of the parliamentary inquiry last month, but Facebook representatives also denied the fact that Analytica had access to and used confidential user data.
However, while justifying its decision to suspend Analytica and Wylie, Facebook admitted to knowing about the breach in 2015.
“In 2015, we learned that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan lied to us and violated our ‘platform policies’ by passing data from an app that was using Facebook Login to SCL/Cambridge Analytica,” the Facebook statement said.
Collins has openly accused the social networking giant of “deliberately avoiding answering straight questions” in its testimony to the investigating committee.
“We think this episode is another indication of systemic problems at Facebook,” said Brian Wieser, an analyst at New York-based brokerage Pivotal Research Group. However, he does not foresee any immediate fallout for Facebook in so far as its business is concerned. He says it’s unlikely that advertisers would “suddenly change the trajectory of their spending growth on the platform”.