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Cambridge Analytica Found to Collect Personal Information of 50 Million Facebook Users Without Consent



Data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica, linked to President Trump’s political campaign, was found to have used the personal information of 50 million Facebook users without permission in a bid to target them with personalised politics-related advertisements, as reported by The Guardian.

News of this breach of privacy came just a day after Facebook had suspended Cambridge Analytica from the purchasing of Facebook ads and managing pages on their platform after discovering the violation of terms.

A former employee of Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie, stated:

“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.” He goes on to say “That was the basis that the entire company was built on.”

Back in 2014, Wylie connected with Aleksandr Kogan whom was a professor in psychology at the University of Cambridge. Kogan had previously developed an app called “This Is Your Digital Life” which compiled the personal information of Facebook users based on what they ‘Liked’ on Facebook to predict their personality.

Kogan’s company, Global Science Research, alongside Cambridge Analytica together paid around 270,000 users to install the application and take the personality test.

The app assisted Cambridge Analytica in compiling not only information from users who took part in the test, but also from their friends’ profiles, which in term exposed millions of users’ personal data. It’s estimated that each person whom downloaded the application only needed around 185 Facebook friends for Cambridge Analytica to gain access to 50 million users.

Kogan’s application collated the psychographic profiles of its users which analyzed various personality traits and characteristics including, agreeableness, openness, IQ, conscientiousness, age, gender, religion and political views. It also assessed people’s “sensations interests” as divided into the below five categories:

  • Militarism
  • Violent occultism
  • Intellectual activities
  • Credulousness
  • Wholesome interests

Kogan, at the time, led Facebook to believe the information collected was solely for academic purposes. He did not disclose the fact that his research would be given to Cambridge Analytica for the use in political campaigns.

Facebook stated that Kogan had “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.”

It was reported that Facebook had first learned of Kogan’s misuse of data over two years ago, yet decided not to disclose that information to the general public. Instead, Facebook removed Kogan’s application from their platform and demanded both Kogan and Cambridge to delete all the data they collected.

Both parties seemed to have complied, but after a review of Cambridge Analytica’s internal documents and emails, as well as interviewing former employees, it was found that a large amount of the Facebook data was still in the company’s possession.

Paul Grewal, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at Facebook told The Times “This was a scam – and a fraud.. We will take whatever steps are required to see that the data in question is deleted once and for all – and take action against all offending parties.”

Cambridge Analytica carried out various tasks for the Trump campaign during the US presidential race in 2016. This included purchasing TV adverts, profiling voters and making suggestions as to where Trump should travel for the best voter appeal.

It was reported by various news outlets that in 2016 the Trump campaign had paid Cambridge Analytica around $5 million for the services they provided for the month of September alone. This was a significant increase compared to the $250,000 it had paid just a month earlier.

It is important to note though, that it is still unclear as to what extent the company’s work assisted in helping Trump win.

Cambridge Analytica was setup back in 2013. Shortly after, high profile Trump supporter and businessman Robert Mercer decided to invest $15 million into the company. The company’s board member was Trump’s previous chief strategist Steve Bannon.

On top of the companies involvement with the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica has also worked on a variety of other political campaigns in both the UK and US, including Senator Ted Cruz’s primary run back in 2016 and the Brexit referendum.

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