Facebook Auditors, UK, EU Probe Campaign 2016 Data Firm Over Harvested User Info

Data expert Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica, speaks at a marketing fair in Hamburg, Germany, on March 3, 2017. (Christian Charisius/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Facebook hired a forensic analysis firm to delve into a data mining firm that worked on President Trump’s campaign after reports that Cambridge Analytica held onto user data that had been improperly harvested.

Paul Grewal, VP and deputy general counsel for Facebook, said in a statement posted Friday on the company’s website that Cambridge Analytica had been suspended from Facebook and they were “moving aggressively to determine the accuracy” of claims that the political data firm didn’t delete user info “contrary to the certifications we were given.”

“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. He also passed that data to Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, Inc.,” Grewal said. “Like all app developers, Kogan requested and gained access to information from people after they chose to download his app. His app, ‘thisisyourdigitallife,’ offered a personality prediction, and billed itself on Facebook as ‘a research app used by psychologists.’ Approximately 270,000 people downloaded the app. In so doing, they gave their consent for Kogan to access information such as the city they set on their profile, or content they had liked, as well as more limited information about friends who had their privacy settings set to allow it.”

“Although Kogan gained access to this information in a legitimate way and through the proper channels that governed all developers on Facebook at that time, he did not subsequently abide by our rules. By passing information on to a third party, including SCL/Cambridge Analytica and Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, he violated our platform policies,” he added. “When we learned of this violation in 2015, we removed his app from Facebook and demanded certifications from Kogan and all parties he had given data to that the information had been destroyed. Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Wylie all certified to us that they destroyed the data.”

In a detailed interview this week with the Guardian, Christopher Wylie, who conceived the joining of political research and psychological targeting that started Cambridge Analytica (Steve Bannon was on the firm’s board), said Facebook lawyers didn’t reach out to him until August 2016 to demand that “illicitly obtained” data be deleted. “Literally all I had to do was tick a box and sign it and send it back, and that was it,” says Wylie. “Facebook made zero effort to get the data back.”

Channel 4 News in Britain today released undercover footage of the company’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, talking about entrapping or bribing politicians. “We’ll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, we’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the Internet,” Nix said, noting in another exchange that they could also “send some girls around to the candidate’s house” to reap dirt on political opponents.

“We’re used to operating through different vehicles, in the shadows, and I look forward to building a very long-term and secretive relationship with you,” Nix told the reporter, who was posing as the representative of a well-heeled client trying to sway elections in Sri Lanka.

“We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then, and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again… like a remote control,” Nix said. “It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda’, because the moment you think ‘that’s propaganda’, the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?’.”

Cambridge Analytica said in response that the report was “edited and scripted to grossly misrepresent the nature of those conversations and how the company conducts its business.” Nix said he was playing along and “should have recognized where the prospective client was taking our conversations and ended the relationship sooner.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Electoral Commissioner in the UK are already investigating Cambridge Analytica; President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani announced on Twitter today that the EU would also be investigating “allegations of misuse of Facebook user data is an unacceptable violation of our citizens’ privacy rights.”

Facebook said today that the company hired a digital forensics firm, Stroz Friedberg, to conduct an audit of Cambridge Analytica.

“Cambridge Analytica has agreed to comply and afford the firm complete access to their servers and systems. We have approached the other parties involved — Christopher Wylie and Aleksandr Kogan — and asked them to submit to an audit as well,” the company said this morning. “Mr. Kogan has given his verbal agreement to do so. Mr. Wylie thus far has declined.”

Later in the day, Facebook said, “Independent forensic auditors from Stroz Friedberg were on site at Cambridge Analytica’s London office this evening. At the request of the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, which has announced it is pursuing a warrant to conduct its own on-site investigation, the Stroz Friedberg auditors stood down.”