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Facebook suspends Cambridge Analytica over data harvesting; 50 mn profiles compromised

Facebook has suspended Cambridge Analytica, a data research firm closely linked to President Donald Trump, over concerns of data harvesting.

By: Tech Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: March 20, 2018 3:53:35 pm
Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, Donald Trump, Trump presidential campaign 2016, data breach facebook, Cambridge Analytica data harvesting, data harvesting, social media, Aleksandr Kogan, Christopher Wylie The data research firm that worked closely with Donald Trump’s election campaign team has been accused of harvesting millions of Facebook profiles of US voters.

Facebook has suspended Cambridge Analytica, a data research firm closely linked to President Donald Trump, over concerns of data harvesting. According to The Guardian and The New York Times, the data analysis firm stole information from 50 million Facebook users’ profile without their permission. The information was then used to build a software tool to predict a user’s preferable candidate of choice during the 2016 US Presidential election. The data breach is being seen as one of the largest in the history of the social networking giant.

Facebook however, is not calling this a data breach as such and said that users had willingly given the information to the app. Facebook’s newsroom statement says, “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.”

What is Cambridge Analytica?

It’s essentially a data analysis company. The political research company has gained significant attention for its data mining and data analysis through a targeted communication plan. The data research firm was involved in the US 2014 mid-terms elections and the 2016 presidential elections. The same company also played a role in the Brexit referendum campaign. Notably, Trump’s former presidential advisor Steve Bannon was on its board of directors.

Why has Cambridge Analytica been in the news?

The Guardian and New York Times claim the data mining company harvested data of 50 million  Facebook users’ without their permission. The alleged details come from a whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, who worked with University of Cambridge psychology professor named Dr Aleksandr Kogan to fetch the data. Kogan had created an app called “thisisyourdigitallife,” to get the information from Facebook users’ profile. The app featured a personality test quiz, and the data research firm paid people to take it. So essentially, users had to sign in through their Facebook IDs and agree to let their data used purely for academic research purposes.

Up to 270,000 people downloaded the app, allowing the data research company to access the relevant data from the profile such as the city a user lives in, or the content they had liked. However, the app also collected the data of test-takers Facebook friends. While the method of obtaining users’ personal information aligned with Facebook’s policies, ” he did not subsequently abide by our rules”, Facebook said in the statement.

What is Facebook doing about the data breach?

The social networking giant has suspended the accounts of Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), the parent firm of Cambridge Analytica, University of Cambridge psychologist Dr Aleksandr Kogan and Christopher Wylie, who runs the company Eunia Technologies.

“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, a firm that does political, government and military work around the globe”, Facebook said in a lengthy post by Paul Grewal, the company’s vice president and Deputy General Counsel.

Facebook also said when the company had removed Kogan’s app in 2015. In fact, all parties involved with the app had assured that they had destroyed the data. However, it did not happen. “We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information. We will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens,” Grewal stated in the blog post.

How has Cambridge Analytica responded ?

Cambridge Analytica said in a statement that it did nothing illegal and is currently in touch with Facebook. In fact, the company claims that it only “receives and uses data that has been obtained legally and fairly”.

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