Facebook Must Answer Cambridge Analytica Data Abuse Allegations, Senator Demands

Bipartisan calls for Facebook to testify on Capitol Hill intensified Monday as Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who is influential on technology issues, sent a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg demanding answers about alleged abuse of user data.

Reports that Facebook harvested and abused users' data for political purposes emerged Friday, as the company's former partnership with the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica was exposed. U.S. and European lawmakers are demanding that Facebook testify on how the consultancy, which worked on President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, had access to the data of more than 50 million Facebook users during the election.

The consultancy is accused of using online data to create voter personality profiles to target users with personalized political advertisements. Aleksandr Kogan, a Cambridge University professor working with Cambridge Analytica, created an app that gathered and stockpiled user information and relied upon an application programming interface that Facebook developed to allow third parties to see that data, as well as friends' data.

The political profiles formed by gleaning Facebook user information would target them with intentionally fake news articles and advertisements. Conservative donor Robert Mercer invested $15 million into Cambridge Analytica, which has ties to former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, The New York Times reported.

Wyden, the ranking member of the Senate finance committee, demanded in his letter on Monday that Zuckerberg and Facebook's attorneys hand over information on how the company was reportedly deceived by Cambridge Analytica or other third-party data firms by April 13.

"Approximately 270,000 Facebook users downloaded an app created by University of Cambridge researcher Dr. Aleksandr [Kogan] purporting to offer personality predictions for users," wrote Wyden. "In addition to downloading Facebook data about app users, the app sought and collected data about the Facebook friends of its users."

Wyden continued, "As a result, the vast majority of the tens of millions of users whose data was collected by Spectre likely had no knowledge that their information was being harvested by third parties."

Facebook saw its largest stock market drop since September 2012, as shares fell more than 13 points Monday morning over reports of the social media giant's work Cambridge Analytica. Monday's financial fall erases more than $40 billion from Facebook's market value. The company's vice president and deputy general counsel said the data leak exposed this past week showed "this was a scam—and a fraud" perpetrated against the company.

Facebook announced Friday it had suspended Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Christopher Wylie from the social network.

Wylie, who helped found Cambridge Analytica and was employed there until 2014, told The New York Times of its leaders, "Rules don't matter for them. For them, this is a war, and it's all fair."

This isn't Facebook's first run-in with federal lawmakers concerned the company is making money by promoting political bias.

In May 2016, Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota demanded Facebook explain a Gizmodo report accusing "trending" news staff members of intentionally suppressing articles from conservative sources. As Wired reported, Facebook conducted an internal investigation of bias and even invited conservative political figures to their Menlo Park, California, offices for a meeting in 2016.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May responded to the Cambridge Analytica allegations Monday to Reuters, calling them "clearly very concerning.... It is essential that people can have confidence that their personal data will be protected and used in an appropriate way."