- Facebook announced on Friday that it has suspended the data-analytics firms, Cambridge Analytica and Strategic Communication Laboratories from its platform, for its handling of user data.
- “Protecting people’s information is at the heart of what we do, and we require the same from people who operate apps on Facebook,” a company executive said in a press release.
- President Donald Trump’s campaign used Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 election as part of its voter-outreach operation.
- The firm has been been scrutinized amid accusations of misuse and has since become a thread in the ongoing Russia investigation.
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Facebook announced on Friday that Cambridge Analytica, the data-analysis firm that played an important role in Donald Trump’s online strategy during the 2016 US election, has been suspended from the social-media platform for mishandling user data.
“Given the public prominence of this organization, we want to take a moment to explain how we came to this decision and why,” Facebook VP and deputy general counsel Paul Grewel said in a press release on Friday night.
Grewal noted that another company, Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), was also suspended. By booting the companies from its platform “pending further information,” Facebook will no longer allow them to buy ads or manage their pages.
"Protecting people's information is at the heart of what we do, and we require the same from people who operate apps on Facebook,"Grewel said, noting that Facebook had received recent reports of certain rules violations.
According to Grewal's statement, a University of Cambridge professor who had developed a personality prediction app for Facebook users called "thisisyourdigitallife" improperly passed user information to other parties, including Cambridge Analytica and SCL in 2015. Facebook allows some apps to get access to a user's profile and important data that identifies the user's preferences and interests.
Facebook said the professor, Cambridge Analytica, and the other parties involved agreed to destroy all the data at the time. But, Grewel said on Friday, "several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted. We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims.
Such information, if misused, can potentially help bad actors target Facebook users with ads and other information. This was apparently the case during the 2016 US presidential election. Trump's campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in June that year to help target ads using voter data gathered from some 230 million adults.
Several news outlets reported in 2016 that the Trump campaign paid Cambridge Analytica $5 million for its services in September alone that year, a significant increase from the $250,000 it paid one month earlier.
The firm later came under scrutiny after a number of troubling discoveries, including that Cambridge Analytica's CEO had reportedly reached out to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in an effort to find some of then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's deleted emails.
The matter of those emails and an FBI investigation surrounding Clinton's use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state had hamstrung the Clinton campaign, and was seen as one part of a broader effort by Russian operatives to influence the US election.
It also raised questions about whether Trump associates had cooperated with Russia's election-meddling activity, because Russian operatives capitalized on detailed user data to deliver targeted ads and content on Facebook and other social-media platforms.
Worries about whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin arose in part because the content touted by Russian state actors was highly specific, and targeted to competitive US voter precincts - details that some experts have said would not have been familiar to a foreign entity.
The Trump campaign has sought to distance itself from Cambridge Analytica, and has denied any wrongdoing.
In an email to Business Insider, a Cambridge Analytica spokesperson said the company "fully complies with Facebook's terms of service" and said it is working with Facebook to resolve the matter.
Read Cambridge Analytica's full statement below:
"Cambridge Analytica fully complies with Facebook's terms of service and is currently in touch with Facebook following its recent statement that it had suspended the company from its platform, in order to resolve this matter as quickly as possible.
Cambridge Analytica's Commercial and Political divisions use social media platforms for outward marketing, delivering data-led and creative content to targeted audiences. They do not use or hold data from Facebook profiles.
In 2014, we contracted a company led by a seemingly reputable academic at an internationally-renowned institution to undertake a large scale research project in the United States.
This company, Global Science Research (GSR), was contractually committed by us to only obtain data in accordance with the UK Data Protection Act and to seek the informed consent of each respondent. GSR was also contractually the Data Controller (as per Section 1(1) of the Data Protection Act) for any collected data. GSR obtained Facebook data via an API provided by Facebook.
When it subsequently became clear that the data had not been obtained by GSR in line with Facebook's terms of service, Cambridge Analytica deleted all data received from GSR.
We worked with Facebook over this period to ensure that they were satisfied that we had not knowingly breached any of Facebook's terms of service and also provided a signed statement to confirm that all Facebook data and their derivatives had been deleted.
No data from GSR was used by Cambridge Analytica as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign.
Cambridge Analytica only receives and uses data that has been obtained legally and fairly. Our robust data protection policies comply with US, international, European Union, and national regulations."
Read Facebook's entire statement on Cambridge Analytica and Strategic Communication Laboratories below:
"By Paul Grewal, VP & Deputy General Counsel
We are suspending Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), including their political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, from Facebook. Given the public prominence of this organization, we want to take a moment to explain how we came to this decision and why.
We Maintain Strict Standards and Policies
Protecting people's information is at the heart of everything we do, and we require the same from people who operate apps on Facebook. 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.
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. 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.
Breaking the Rules Leads to Suspension
Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted. We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims. If true, this is another unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments they made. We are suspending SCL/Cambridge Analytica, Wylie and Kogan from Facebook, pending further information.
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. We will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior.
How Things Have Changed
We are constantly working to improve the safety and experience of everyone on Facebook. In the past five years, we have made significant improvements in our ability to detect and prevent violations by app developers. Now all apps requesting detailed user information go through our App Review process, which requires developers to justify the data they're looking to collect and how they're going to use it - before they're allowed to even ask people for it.
In 2014, after hearing feedback from the Facebook community, we made an update to ensure that each person decides what information they want to share about themselves, including their friend list. This is just one of the many ways we give people the tools to control their experience. Before you decide to use an app, you can review the permissions the developer is requesting and choose which information to share. You can manage or revoke those permissions at any time.
On an ongoing basis, we also do a variety of manual and automated checks to ensure compliance with our policies and a positive experience for users. These include steps such as random audits of existing apps along with the regular and proactive monitoring of the fastest growing apps.
We enforce our policies in a variety of ways - from working with developers to fix the problem, to suspending developers from our platform, to pursuing litigation."