Facebook confirms Cambridge Analytica stole its data; it’s a plot, claims former director

50 million profiles leaked and ‘politically weaponized’ against US voters


It’s not a data breach - it’s a feature

On Saturday morning Facebook updated its statement on the matter with the following missive:

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.

On social media the company's head of security Alex Stamos has been taking to Twitter to make the same point. He pointed out that users now have controls in their privacy settings to block just this kind of data slurping. However, he has now deleted those tweets.

According to Tiffany Li, research fellow at Yale and the Wikimedia/Yale Law School Initiative on Intermediaries and Information, Facebook might be liable in the courts but appears to be positioning itself as a wronged party in the affair.

“Facebook alluded to fraud in the statement and they could be implying that they were defrauded, and that either the academic or Cambridge Analytica misrepresented itself to Facebook,” she told The Register.

“Facebook itself may have some liability. There are contractual agreements in its privacy policy, but it faces the possibility of Federal Trade Commission enforcement if found to be seriously at fault.”

People in Facebook familiar with the matter told The Register that the company’s primary concern is that this is a matter of a researcher misusing data fraudulently. All options in whether to take further action against those involved are being considered.

The case may, however, have longer-term implications for how States regulate data within their borders, Li said. It was clear that technology companies are trying to be more responsible with their data, but new legislation is needed, since we’re largely still operating under laws written pre-internet.

+Comment

Mr Wylie’s extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and so far we only have his word.

The usefulness of Cambridge Analytica’s technology has been called into question by academics who say its ability to pinpoint voters is in question. There’s also the question of CA’s record.

If the company's targeting and propaganda arm is so powerful then why isn’t the company an international kingmaker? Presidential hopeful Senator Ted Cruz hired the firm to improve his image and Nix reportedly bragged that Cambridge Analytica had turned “one of the less-popular” candidates into the “second-most threatening contender.”

But he still lost, and lost big time. That may be a bad metric because Cruz is loathed by many in his own party, but Cambridge Analytica should be being bought into by every political party in the world if it can swing over voters as effectively as has been claimed.

Cambridge Analytica did work for Trump in the last five months or so of his campaign. Whether or not they had an effect is hard to tell. Facebook’s own research shows that its feeds can affect people’s emotions, but can it do the same for voting patterns?

But does it have an effect? Almost certainly - all successful firms like this, from Palantir on down, sell services like this and people wouldn’t pay for them if they didn’t work. We all have a responsibility to be skeptical about what social media is feeding us.

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica will certainly be under the microscope. The Massachusetts Attorney General has announced the state will hold an investigation into the matter immediately.

There’s also the Robert Mueller investigation to consider. He has reportedly already had contact with Cambridge Analytica, and the former FBI boss will be looking to get to the bottom of such things.

But it's likely that a copy, or copies, of the archive is still out there, given that Facebook demands nothing more than a pinky swear from those responsible that they really did delete it. Finding such a data trove would put Cambridge Analytica in very hot water indeed.

Incidentally, if you want to know what data Cambridge Analytica has on you then finding out is simple. Under UK data protection laws the company has to tell you what it has on its servers and you simply have to ask for it. There are more details here and feel free to get in touch if anything interesting pops up. ®

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