U.S.

Facebook Suspends Cambridge Analytica, The Controversial Data Firm Which Helped Trump Win the White House

Facebook on Friday said it was suspending political data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, which worked for President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign, after finding data privacy policies had been violated.

Facebook said in a statement that it suspended Cambridge Analytica and its parent group Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) after receiving reports that they did not delete information about Facebook users that was inappropriately shared.

GettyImages-607814904 CEO of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix speaks at the 2016 Concordia Summit - Day 1 at Grand Hyatt New York on September 19, 2016 in New York City. Getty Images

Facebook did not mention the Trump campaign or any political campaigns in its statement, attributed to company Deputy General Counsel Paul Grewal.

“We will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior,” Facebook said, adding that it was continuing to investigate the claims.

In a statement to the BBC, Cambridge Analytica said it deleted "all the data it had received" when it was told the information was obtained in breach of Facebook's terms of service.

"For the avoidance of doubt, no data [from Prof Kogan] was used in the work we did in the 2016 US presidential election," it added.

Cambridge Analytica worked for the failed presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and then for the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. On its website, it says it “provided the Donald J. Trump for President campaign with the expertise and insights that helped win the White House”.

Brad Parscale, who ran Trump’s digital ad operation in 2016 and is his 2020 campaign manager, declined to comment on Friday.

In past interviews with Reuters, Parscale has said that Cambridge Analytica played a minor role as a contractor in the 2016 Trump campaign, and that the campaign used voter data from a Republican-affiliated organization rather than Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook’s Grewal said the company was taking the unusual step of announcing the suspension “given the public prominence” of Cambridge Analytica and its parent organization.

The suspension means Cambridge Analytica and SCL cannot buy ads on the world’s largest social media network or administer pages belonging to clients, Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook vice president, said in a Twitter post.

Trump’s campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in June 2016 and paid it more than $6.2 million, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Cambridge Analytica says it uses “behavioral microtargeting”, or combining analysis of people’s personalities with demographics, to predict and influence mass behavior. It says it has data on 220 million Americans, two thirds of the U.S. population.

It has worked on other campaigns in the United States and other countries, and it is funded by Robert Mercer, a prominent supporter of politically conservative groups.

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was on its board of directors. It also played a role in the U.K.'s June 2016 Brexit referendum, after being hired by campaign group which advocated for Britain's exit from the European Union. 

Facebook in its statement described a rocky relationship with Cambridge Analytica and two individuals going back to 2015.

That year, Facebook said, it learned that University of Cambridge professor Aleksandr Kogan lied to the company and violated its policies by sharing data that he acquired with a so-called “research app” that used Facebook’s login system.

Brad Parscale Brad Parscale, digital director for the Trump campaign, and Eli Miller, chief operating officer for the Trump campaign, exit Trump Tower, November 16, 2016 in New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Kogan was not immediately available for comment.

The app was downloaded by about 270,000 people. Facebook said that Kogan gained access to profile and other information "in a legitimate way" but "he did not subsequently abide by our rules" when he passed the data to SCL/Cambridge Analytica and Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies. 

Eunoia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook said it cut ties to Kogan’s app when it learned of the violation in 2015, and asked for certification from Kogan and all parties he had given data to that the information had been destroyed.

Although all certified that they had destroyed the data, Facebook said that it received reports in the past several days that “not all data was deleted”, prompting the suspension announced on Friday. 

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