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Cambridge Analytica Closing Down Following Facebook Data Misuse Scandal

Abrar Al-Heeti
Cambridge Analytica is shutting down effective Wendesday. © Provided by CNET Cambridge Analytica is shutting down effective Wednesday.

 

Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, is shutting down following alleged misuse of Facebook data.

In a statement, the company said its UK and US arms would enter into insolvency and bankruptcy proceedings. The shutdown, effective Wednesday, was earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Cambridge Analytica is at the centre of a scandal that’s stirred up two national governments and Facebook, the world’s largest social network. Facebook banned the consultancy last month, saying it had improperly received data from as many as 87 million user profiles. The controversy prompted Congress to summon Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Washington for testimony last month, an appearance that made headlines around the world.

Cambridge Analytica has denied wrongdoing but said the controversy weighed on its business and forced it to close its doors.

“The siege of media coverage has driven away virtually all of the company’s customers and suppliers,” the company said in its statement. “As a result, it has been determined that it is no longer viable to continue operating the business, which left Cambridge Analytica with no realistic alternative to placing the company into administration.”

In the wake of the data-mining scandal, Zuckerberg faced more than 10 hours of hearings with three committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The hearings stretched over two days, during which he was grilled on everything from data privacy concerns, censorship and even how the Russian government manipulated Facebook to spread propaganda during the 2016 election.

In a statement, Facebook said it’s continuing its investigation with “relevant authorities.”

“This doesn’t change our commitment and determination to understand exactly what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” a company representative said. Last week, Facebook reported a nearly 50 percent jump in sales, suggesting the biggest crisis in the company’s 14-year history has yet to take a toll.

The sudden decision to close shop marks a departure from Cambridge Analytica’s strong defence of itself. Just Monday, the company tweeted that followers should “Get the Facts Behind the Facebook Story,” adding a link to cambridgefacts.com. That site attempts to refute much of the coverage the firm has received in light of the scandal.

In March, Cambridge Analytica suspended Chief Executive Alexander Nix after he and other senior executives at the firm were caught on video saying they’d go beyond using data to hurt a client’s rival political candidate. Those tactics, Nix said in a report broadcast by the UK’s Channel 4, included entrapping politicians to influence an election’s outcome. Cambridge Analytica has ties to the Donald Trump campaign.

Neither Cambridge Analytica nor parent SCL Group immediately responded to a request for comment.

Last month, The New York Times reported that Emerdata, a new UK firm, had been created to house Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group. That, however, might not be enough to keep public scrutiny at bay, says Tim Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies.

“If the principals who made these bad decisions at Cambridge Analytica just donned a new hat, I’m not sure they’ll be successful,” he said. “The fact that they made bad mistakes while they were at Cambridge Analytica — what’s going to keep them from doing that now under a new moniker?”

Also on Tuesday, Cambridge Analytica released the results of an independent investigation commissioned into whether it was involved in any wrongdoing. The investigation concluded that the allegations against Cambridge Analytica weren’t “borne out by the facts.”   (CNET)

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Facebook Confirms 1.1m Britons Affected By Cambridge Analytica Data Misuse |RN

By James Titcomb and Harriet Alexander

Video provided by Bloomberg 

More than a million British Facebook users could have had their personal data accessed by Cambridge Analytica, the company revealed on Wednesday, as it increased its estimates of the total number of users affected from 50 to 87 million.

Mark Zuckerberg, the embattled chief executive of Facebook, refused to rule out legal action against the British company and insisted that he remained the best man to lead the tech firm, flatly denying that he had been asked to resign.

Mark Zuckerberg standing in front of a sign           © Provided by The Telegraph

In a rare teleconference with reporters, Mr Zuckerberg, 33, sidestepped questions as to why he had declined to appear before a committee of British MPs, pointing out that earlier in the day it was confirmed that he will testify before US politicians.

He said he would from now send his executives, including Mike Schroepfer, the chief technology officer, to answer internationally on his behalf.

“We announced today that I am going to be testifying in the US Congress, and I am going to be sending Schroepfer or another of our top folks to answer additional questions from countries in other places,” he said.

The entrepreneur struck an upbeat tone at times, saying he was proud of Facebook’s work in “bringing billions of people together” and defending the company from accusations of selling data to advertisers.

At other moments he was apologetic, admitting that Facebook had not done enough to protect its users and admitting that, with hindsight, he would have acted to prevent the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

“I think life is about learning from the mistakes and figuring what are the best things to do, moving forward,” he said. “I think the reality of a lot of this is that when you are building something like Facebook, that is unprecedented in the world, there are going to be things you will mess up. I think what people should hold us accountable for is learning from our mistakes.”

Alexander Nix, the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica   © press association Alexander Nix, the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica

The people affected had their data incorrectly passed to the British election consultants several years ago after fewer than 200,000 Facebook users downloaded a quiz app in 2013 that harvested data about their friends.

Facebook told The Telegraph that 81.2 percent of total affected people were in the US, while 1.2 percent – or 1,079,000 people – were in the UK.

Facebook is now accused of failing to ensure that Cambridge Analytica deleted the data after ordering it to do so in 2015. The British company allegedly used the information to boost Donald Trump’s election campaign.

The offices of Cambridge Analytica (CA) in central London, after it was announced that Britain's information commissioner Elizabeth Denham is pursuing a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica's computer servers, Tuesday March 20, 2018. Denham said Tuesday that she is using all her legal powers to investigate Facebook and political campaign consultants Cambridge Analytica over the alleged misuse of millions of people's data. Cambridge Analytica said it is committed to helping the U.K. investigation. (Kirsty O'Connor/PA via AP)© The Associated Press The offices of Cambridge Analytica (CA) in central London, after it was announced that Britain’s information commissioner Elizabeth Denham is pursuing a warrant to search Cambridge…

Technology bosses rarely appear in front of Washington hearings in person and have been criticised by US politicians for sending their top lawyers instead. Mr Zuckerberg has often left Washington manoeuvring to his chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, who has represented Facebook at previous political summits, and his appearance next week will be a first in front of US politicians.

Mr Zuckerberg may also face US senators in a separate hearing next week, although this is yet to be confirmed.

The committee’s Republican chairman Greg Walden and its ranking Democrat member Frank Pallone Jr said the hearing “will be an important opportunity to shed light on critical consumer data privacy issues and help all Americans better understand what happens to their personal information online”.

They added: “We appreciate Mr Zuckerberg’s willingness to testify before the committee, and we look forward to him answering our questions.”

Mark Zuckerberg wearing a suit and tie            © Provided by The Telegraph 

Mr Zuckerberg’s willingness to appear in Washington jars with his current reluctance to face British MPs, who have twice demanded he appear in front of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee.

Last week, the committee chairman Damian Collins said it was “absolutely astonishing” that Mr Zuckerberg was not prepared to appear in person.

This week, Facebook said it had deleted hundreds of pages and accounts linked to a Russian “troll factory” accused of posting fake news and political posts during the 2016 US presidential election, in a further attempt to regain its reputation.

Mr Zuckerberg said the agency “has repeatedly acted to deceive people and manipulate people around the world, and we don’t want them on Facebook”.

Chris Wylie, from Canada, who once worked for the UK-based political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, gives a talk entitled "The Most Important Whistleblower Since Snowden: The Mind Behind Cambridge Analytica" at the Frontline Club in London, Tuesday, March 20, 2018. Cambridge Analytica has been accused of improperly using information from more than 50 million Facebook accounts. It denies wrongdoing. Wylie has been quoted as saying the company used the data to build psychological profiles so voters could be targeted with ads and stories. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)© The Associated Press Chris Wylie, from Canada, who once worked for the UK-based political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, gives a talk entitled “The Most Important Whistleblower Since Snowden: The…

He concluded: “Given how complex our systems are, I think this is a multi-year project. Part of the good news is that we have really ramped up on this. We are probably a year in on a three-year push.

“We’re going to keep on looking for things, and keep on doing more.”   (The Telegraph)

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Facebook Gave Cambridge Analytica 57bn Data Of Friendships Formed In 2011 Around The World

Julia Carrie Wong and Paul Lewis
                     © Getty  

Before Facebook suspended Aleksandr Kogan from its platform for the data harvesting “scam” at the centre of the unfolding Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media company enjoyed a close enough relationship with the researcher that it provided him with an anonymised, aggregate dataset of 57bn Facebook friendships.

Facebook provided the dataset of “every friendship formed in 2011 in every country in the world at the national aggregate level” to Kogan’s University of Cambridge laboratory for a study on international friendships published in Personality and Individual Differences in 2015. Two Facebook employees were named as co-authors of the study, alongside researchers from Cambridge, Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. Kogan was publishing under the name Aleksandr Spectre at the time.

A University of Cambridge press release on the study’s publication noted that the paper was “the first output of ongoing research collaborations between Spectre’s lab in Cambridge and Facebook”. Facebook did not respond to queries about whether any other collaborations occurred.

“The sheer volume of the 57bn friend pairs implies a pre-existing relationship,” said Jonathan Albright, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism. “It’s not common for Facebook to share that kind of data. It suggests a trusted partnership between Aleksandr Kogan/Spectre and Facebook.”

Facebook downplayed the significance of the dataset, which it said was shared with Kogan in 2013. “The data that was shared was literally numbers – numbers of how many friendships were made between pairs of countries – ie x number of friendships made between the US and UK,” Facebook spokeswoman Christine Chen said by email. “There was no personally identifiable information included in this data.”

Facebook’s relationship with Kogan has since soured.

“We ended our working relationship with Kogan altogether after we learned that he violated Facebook’s terms of service for his unrelated work as a Facebook app developer,” Chen said. Facebook has said that it learned of Kogan’s misuse of the data in December 2015, when the Guardian first reported that the data had been obtained by Cambridge Analytica.

“We started to take steps to end the relationship right after the Guardian report, and after investigation, we ended the relationship soon after, in 2016,” Chen said.

On Friday 16 March, in anticipation of the Observer’s reporting that Kogan had improperly harvested and shared the data of more than 50 million Americans, Facebook suspended Kogan from the platform, issued a statement saying that he “lied” to the company, and characterised his activities as “a scam – and a fraud”.

On Tuesday, Facebook went further, saying in a statement: “The entire company is outraged we were deceived.” And on Wednesday, in his first public statement on the scandal, its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, called Kogan’s actions a “breach of trust”.

But Facebook has not explained how it came to have such a close relationship with Kogan that it was co-authoring research papers with him, nor why it took until this week – more than two years after the Guardian initially reported on Kogan’s data harvesting activities – for it to inform the users whose personal information was improperly shared.

And Kogan has offered a defence of his actions in an interview with the BBC and an email to his Cambridge colleagues obtained by the Guardian. “My view is that I’m being basically used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,” Kogan said on Radio 4 on Wednesday.

The data collection that resulted in Kogan’s suspension by Facebook was undertaken by Global Science Research (GSR), a company he founded in May 2014 with another Cambridge researcher, Joseph Chancellor. Chancellor is currently employed by Facebook.

Between June and August of that year, GSR paid approximately 270,000 individuals to use a Facebook questionnaire app that harvested data from their own Facebook profiles, as well as from their friends, resulting in a dataset of more than 50 million users. The data was subsequently given to Cambridge Analytica, in what Facebook has said was a violation of Kogan’s agreement to use the data solely for academic purposes.

In his email to colleagues at Cambridge, Kogan said that he had created the Facebook app in 2013 for academic purposes, and used it for “a number of studies”. After he founded GSR, Kogan wrote, he transferred the app to the company and changed its name, logo, description, and terms and conditions. CNN first reported on the Cambridge email. Kogan did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment on this article.

“We made clear the app was for commercial use – we never mentioned academic research nor the University of Cambridge,” Kogan wrote. “We clearly stated that the users were granting us the right to use the data in broad scope, including selling and licensing the data. These changes were all made on the Facebook app platform and thus they had full ability to review the nature of the app and raise issues. Facebook at no point raised any concerns at all about any of these changes.”

Kogan is not alone in criticising Facebook’s apparent efforts to place the blame on him.

“In my view, it’s Facebook that did most of the sharing,” said Albright, who questioned why Facebook created a system for third parties to access so much personal information in the first place. That system “was designed to share their users’ data in meaningful ways in exchange for stock value”, he added.

Whistleblower Christopher Wylie told the Observer that Facebook was aware of the volume of data being pulled by Kogan’s app. “Their security protocols were triggered because Kogan’s apps were pulling this enormous amount of data, but apparently Kogan told them it was for academic use,” Wylie said. “So they were like: ‘Fine.’”

In the Cambridge email, Kogan characterised this claim as a “fabrication”, writing: “There was no exchange with Facebook about it, and … we never claimed during the project that it was for academic research. In fact, we did our absolute best not to have the project have any entanglements with the university.”

The collaboration between Kogan and Facebook researchers which resulted in the report published in 2015 also used data harvested by a Facebook app. The study analysed two datasets, the anonymous macro-level national set of 57bn friend pairs provided by Facebook and a smaller dataset collected by the Cambridge academics.

For the smaller dataset, the research team used the same method of paying people to use a Facebook app that harvested data about the individuals and their friends. Facebook was not involved in this part of the study. The study notes that the users signed a consent form about the research and that “no deception was used”.

The paper was published in late August 2015. In September 2015, Chancellor left GSR, according to company records. In November 2015, Chancellor was hired to work at Facebook as a user experience researcher.

Neither Facebook nor Chancellor has responded to numerous queries about his knowledge of Kogan’s and GSR’s activities.  (The Guardian)

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Mark Zuckerberg Formally Invited To Testify In UK Parliament After Cambridge Analytica Revelations

Dan Bloom
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg         © Associated Press Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

MPs have demanded Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg gives evidence in Parliament following revelations about the voter-targeting firm Cambridge Analytica.

The founder of the global social networking giant is being asked to appear in a session hosted by MPs on fake news.

The Commons Culture, Media and Sports Committee today made the announcement as it accused Facebook of missing a deadline to supply supplementary evidence to its inquiry.

A general view the House of Commons           © Getty A general view the House of Commons

Committee chair Damian Collins wrote: “It is now time to hear from a senior Facebook executive with the sufficient authority to give an accurate account of this catastrophic failure of process.

“There is a strong public interest test regarding user protection.

“Accordingly we are sure you will understand the need for a representative from right at the top of the organisation to address concerns.

“Given your commitment at the start of the New Year to “fixing” Facebook, I hope that this representative will be you.”

Chief Executive of Cambridge Analytica            © Press Association Chief Executive of Cambridge Analytica

 

The letter comes after claims Cambridge Analytica used data from more than 50 million Facebook profiles ahead of the 2016 US election.

Channel 4 News then aired footage last night which appeared to show Alexander Nix, the British firm’s chief executive, telling an undercover reporter they could dirt could be dug up on political opponents.

He also appeared to suggest he could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house”, adding that Ukrainian girls “are very beautiful, I find that works very well.”

A Cambridge Analytica spokesman told Channel Four News: “We entirely refute any allegation that Cambridge Analytica or any of its affiliates use entrapment, bribes, or so-called “honey-traps” for any purpose whatsoever…”

They added: “Cambridge Analytica does not use the untrue material for any purpose.”

The Information Commissioner watchdog is investigating whether Facebook did enough to protect data over the claims about 50million profiles.
Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she was seeking a warrant to search the offices of Cambridge Analytica as part of her inquiries.

Cambridge Analytica has denied all the media claims and said it deleted the data after learning the information did not adhere to data protection rules.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

“We are not alone in using data from social media sites to extract user information,” a statement by the firm to Reuters said.

“No Facebook data was used by our data science team in the 2016 presidential campaign.” (Mirror)

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