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Facebook blocks data group tied to 2016 Trump campaign

iStock/Thinkstock
iStock/Thinkstock

(MENLO PARK, Calif.) — Cambridge Analytica, the London-based political data analytics firm tied to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, has been suspended from Facebook, the social media giant announced late Friday.

Questions have been raised about the digital operations surrounding the Trump Campaign and Republican Party efforts during the last campaign cycle.

Under the suspension, Cambridge Analytica is blocked from Facebook and cannot buy ads on the site.

The decision, said Facebook, comes in light of newly resurfaced questions surrounding a possible violation to agreement made between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica involving the access, use, and distribution of hundreds of thousands of Facebook user’s personal data.

Facebook offered an explanation of how they arrived at the decision, and why.

“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.,” Vice President & Deputy General Counsel for Facebook Paul Grewal wrote.

Grewal explained that, as any app developer would do, Kogan requested and garnered access to information from individuals after users chose to download his app. The app, “thisisyourdigitallife,” according to Grewal, “… offered a personality prediction, and billed itself on Facebook as ‘a research app used by psychologists.’”

“Approximately 270,000 people downloaded the app,” Grewal stated.

“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,” he added.

“Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted,” said Grewal. Facebook is “moving aggressively” to assess the accuracy of the new claims, he added.

“If true, this is another unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments they made,” Grewal said.

Cambridge Analytica is financed in part by Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor and patron of President Trump’s former senior advisor Steve Bannon.

Reached by ABC News, a spokesperson for Cambridge Analytical defended their work, claiming, “It would be entirely incorrect to attempt to claim that SCL Elections illegally acquired Facebook data.”

“Indeed SCL Elections worked with Facebook over this period to ensure that they were satisfied that SCL Elections 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. Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections do not use or hold Facebook data,“ the statement read.

Cambridge Analytica argues they violated no laws in obtaining the data under British policy, under which they considered themselves as qualifying under the provisions.

“Under Section 55 of the Data Protection Act … a criminal offense has not been committed if a person has acted in the reasonable belief that he had in law the right to obtain data,” the Cambridge Analytica spokesman said. “GSR was a company led by a seemingly reputable academic at an internationally renowned institution who made explicit contractual commitments to us regarding the its legal authority to license data to SCL Elections.”

“It would be entirely incorrect to attempt to claim that SCL Elections illegally acquired Facebook data,” the spokesman added.

The spokesman later said in sum, “Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections do not use or hold Facebook data.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on Saturday night called for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee over the acquisition of user data, saying, “This is a major breach that must be investigated. It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves.”

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