Trump consultants harvested data from 50m Facebook users

NEW YORK: Data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users in developing techniques to support President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign, the New York Times and London’s Observer reported on Saturday.
The Massachusetts attorney general said her office was launching an investigation after the news reports.
“Massachusetts residents deserve answers immediately from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,” Maura Healey said on Twitter in a post that linked to a Times report.
The United Kingdom’s Information Commission also announced on Saturday they are conducting an investigation of Cambridge Analytica, which also had clients in the country.
“Any criminal and civil enforcement actions arising from the investigation will be pursued vigorously,” said Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner. Facebook on Friday said it was suspending Cambridge Analytica after finding data privacy policies had been violated.
The move means Cambridge Analytica and its parent group Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) cannot buy ads or administer pages belonging to clients.
The newspapers, which cited former Cambridge Analytica employees, associates and documents, said the data breach was one of the largest in the history of Facebook Inc.
The Observer said Cambridge Analytica used the data, taken without authorization in early 2014, to build a software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.
It quoted whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who helped set up Cambridge Analytica and worked with an academic at Cambridge University to obtain the data, as saying the system could profile individual voters to target them with personalized political advertisements.
The more than 50 million profiles represented about a third of active North American Facebook users, and nearly a quarter of potential US voters, at the time, the Observer said.
“We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis that the entire company was built on,” Wylie told the Observer.
The New York Times said interviews with a half-dozen former Cambridge Analytica employees and contractors, and a review of the firm’s emails and documents, revealed it not only relied on the private Facebook data but still possesses most or all of it.
The Observer said the data was collected through an app called thisisyourdigitallife, built by academic Aleksandr Kogan, from Cambridge University. — Reuters