Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix is pictured. The company was banned from Facebook on Friday over its handling of user data
A data analysis firm employed by President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign tapped the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission.
One of the largest data leaks in Facebook history allowed Cambridge Analytica, which had ties to Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon, to develop techniques that formed the basis of its work on the Trump campaign, The New York Times and The Guardian reported.
Facebook said in addition to suspending Cambridge Analytica- it has also suspended University of Cambridge psychology professor Aleksandr Kogan who created theharvesting app in question; and another individual, Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies (previously employed with Cambride Analytica), who also allegedly received user data from the app.
Wylie has become a focal point in the illegitimate acquisitions of 50million Facebook profiles and user data.
Wylie, who is now just 28-years-old, and arguably a tech prodigy, told the Guardian he has a paper trail of the harvested 50million-user data, along with receipts, invoices, emails and legal letters – that all support how between June and August of 2014 the Facebook accounts and data had been compromised.
Most damning of all, in 2014, he had a letter from Facebook’s own lawyers admitting that Cambridge Analytica had acquired the data illegitimately.
By opening up his records during the time of his employment with Cambridge Analytica, he is breaking a non-disclosure agreement and risks being sued.
Steve Bannon became a board member for Cambridge Analytica in about 2014 under it’s American shell company
Additionally, he is breaking the confidence of Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica.
In 2014, Bannon had become a board member for Cambridge Analytica, and of course went on to become Trump’s chief campaign strategist.
Facebook said it suspended Cambridge Analytica over allegations that it kept the improperly obtained user data after telling Facebook it had been deleted.
In a blog post, Facebook explained that Cambridge Analytica had years ago received user data from a Facebook app that purported to be a psychological research tool, though the firm was not authorized to have the information.
Roughly 270,000 people downloaded and shared personal details with the app.
Cambridge Analytica later certified in 2015 that it had destroyed the information it had received, according to Facebook, although the social network said it received reports ‘several days ago’ that not all the data was deleted.
Facebook says it is investigating.
Cambridge Analytica denied wrongdoing in a statement. It said the parent company’s SCL Elections unit hired Kogan to undertake ‘a large scale research project in the U.S.,’ but subsequently deleted all data it received from Kogan’s company after learning that Kogan had obtained data in violation of Facebook policies.
According to Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Elections, the firm said none of Kogan’s data was used in its 2016 election work for the ‘avoidance of doubt.’
Kogan did not immediately reply to an emailed request for comment. Wylie could not immediately be located.
The Facebook blog post, written by deputy general counsel Paul Grewal, cited the ‘public prominence’ of Cambridge Analytica, called the alleged data retention an ‘unacceptable violation of trust’ and said the social network will take legal action if necessary to hold all parties ‘responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior.’
However, Cambridge Analytica is still probably best known for its political work during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. The company claims to build psychological profiles based on personal details from millions of Americans that can categorize individual voters.
It worked for both the primary campaign of Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, and Trump’s general-election campaign.
Trump’s campaign Saturday denied using the firm’s data, saying it relied on the Republican National Committee for its data.
‘The campaign used the RNC for its voter data and not Cambridge Analytica,’ the campaign said in a statement. ‘Using the RNC data was one of the best choices the campaign made. Any claims that voter data were used from another source to support the victory in 2016 are false.’
Cambridge Analytica is backed by the family of billionaire donor Robert Mercer, a hedge fund manager who also supported the Trump campaign and other conservative candidates and causes, including Bannon, the Trump campaign strategist.
Trump campaign officials have downplayed Cambridge Analytica’s role, saying they briefly used the company for television advertising and paid some of its most skilled data employees.
The firm had secured a $15 million investment from Mercer and wooed Bannon with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior.
Cambridge Analytica did not have the data to make its new products work. So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission.
They only at that time had 270,000, which were in fact obtained legally. But the number was too low to adequately gather the psychological profiles of American voters.
A representative for Bannon did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment by the Associated Press.
The company has surfaced in the U.S. probes into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. British officials are also investigating the firm in connection with the June 2016 EU referendum.
In 2014, the company hired Cambridge professor Dr. Aleksandr Kogan. He obtained information legally from 270,000 Facebook users but then shared it with Cambridge Analytica which was against the rules
Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, disclosed an advisory role with Cambridge Analytica last August.
SCL later said that position never materialized.
Flynn is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference after pleading guilty to a felony charge.
Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix also disclosed last November that the company reached out to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the campaign to request emails related to the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Nix said Assange denied the request, which came after Assange had said publicly that he had the emails. Clinton campaign emails stolen by Russian agents are one focus of the election-interference probes.
Nix has denied any involvement in Russian election meddling.
Revelations that Cambridge Analytica misused social media data could also be of interest to Mueller’s investigation.
While much of the thrust of special counsel’s investigation has been tightly held, Mueller has requested that the firm turn over the emails of any employees who worked on the campaign, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal last year.
In 2015, the Facebook discovered that Cambridge professor Dr. Kogan had given the information to the company after obtaining it legitimately through an app of his own.
The app was called This Is Your Digital Life and was downloaded by Facebook users once they had already logged in.
They willingly submitted their information to This Is Your Digital Life but were unaware what Kogan would do with it next, the site claims.
When Facebook learned that he had shared it with the Cambridge Analytica, they asked both to destroy it.
All assured that they had erased it and they continued using the site.
However several days ago, Facebook claims it received reports that not all of the information was erased.
‘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.
Trump’s campaign hired Cambridge Analytica. The company insists that none of the information it got from Kogan was used for the president’s 2016 campaign and that it deleted i tall but Facebook claims otherwise
Cambridge Analytica denies the allegation and insisted on Friday that none of the information it received from Kogan was used in the Trump campaign.
‘Cambridge Analytica deleted all data received from GSR,’ the company said in a statement. GSR stands for Global Science Research, Kogan’s company.
‘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,’ its spokesman added.
Cambridge Analytica was has strong ties to Steve Bannon, Trump’s alt-right former campaign chairman.
He was hired at the behest of Robert and Rebekah Mercer, the father-daughter Republican duo who were among Trump and Bannon’s most deep pocketed and reliable donors during the campaign.
Rebekah Mercer is the co-owner of Cambridge Analytica.
Cambridge Analytica worked closely with the Trump campaign and has been credited by Brad Parscale, Trump’s ‘Facebook guru’ with solidifying their victory.
Parscale, who handled social media for the last campaign, has already been named as the president’s 2020 campaign manager.
Nix has also been accused of offering one of the Brexit Leave campaigns illegal endorsements from America. He denies the accusation, that was made by Leave.eu co-founder Arron Banks, last month
The Conservative mega-donor father-daughter duo Robert and Rebekah Mercer created Cambridge Analytica and also touted Steve Bannon for Trump’s campaign
Last month, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller requested Cambridge Analytica turn over documents for his probe into potential Russian interference in the election.
The data firm has also been tied to Leave.eu, one of the the Brexit campaigns but not the designated Vote Leave campaign.
That campaign’s chairman, Arron Banks, claimed Nix offered him illegal investment from American donors when they discussed if he would do business with them.
According to banks, Nix said he wanted an initial £1m to start work and ‘then said they would raise £6m in the states’.
Raising money from foreign supporters is illegal under UK electoral law.
Nix insisted last month during a grilling from MPs that he made no such offer to the Leave.eu campaign and that their involvement never went beyond ‘a few dinners’.
‘We didn’t get hitched. We dated each other. We had a couple of dinners but we didn’t get married,’ he said.
He is named in Mr. Banks’ book, The Bad Boys of Brexit.