Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have been accused of misleading MPs after reports claimed the US data firm harvested data from more than 50 million social media profiles without consent.
Facebook has suspended Cambridge Analytica and Cambridge University academic Aleksandr Kogan over a breach of its policies, but denies a data breach.
Kogan developed a Facebook app which featured a personality quiz called ‘thisisyourdigitallife’ and Cambridge Analytica paid people to take it.
As well as the quiz results and the user’s Facebook account data, however, it also collected the data of their Facebook friends as well – which is strictly against Facebook’s rules.
Reports in the Guardian and Observer at the weekend quoted whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who helped set up Cambridge Analytica, as saying that the firm micro-targeted American voters based on information it did not have permission to access.
The algorithm allegedly analysed Facebook ‘likes’ to profile US voters on grounds of sexual orientation, race, gender, intelligence and whether their parents had stayed together when they were children.
Wylie added: “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis that the entire company was built on.”
Cambridge Analytica said it does not hold or use any Facebook data and both companies deny any wrongdoing.
However the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee said both firms must answer more questions over the claims that the data was gathered without consent after Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix’s appearance at a Commons hearing last month.
Its chairman Damian Collins said it was “clear that [Mr Nix] has deliberately misled the committee and Parliament by giving false statements” while he said the committee had “repeatedly” asked Facebook whether information had been taken without users’ consent.
He claims that the firm “deliberately avoided answering straight questions” from the committee by sending witnesses who claimed not to know the answers, adding: “This also creates a false reassurance that Facebook’s stated policies are always robust and effectively policed.”
President Donald Trump’s election campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in June 2016 and paid it more than $6.2 million, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office has announced it is conducting an investigation of Cambridge Analytica, which also had clients in this country.
“Any criminal and civil enforcement actions arising from the investigation will be pursued vigorously,” said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.
A Facebook spokesman said: “The claim that this is a data breach is completely false. 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.”
We ran a series of articles on Facebook’s use of data last year, from how it targets you with tagging and location to accessing your phone and emails, whether people know you’ve viewed their profile and making friend suggestions from Tinder and other apps.
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