Millions of Facebook users have had their personal information compromised without their consent according to a whistleblower who helped found the election data company, Cambridge Analytica, which informed the Trump presidential campaign and has worked for Leave.EU.
Whistleblower Christopher Wylie told the Guardian how British data science firm Cambridge Analytica, the privately held business with the financial backing of Republican donor Robert Mercer, had scraped the Facebook profiles of over 50 million users without their consent.
When Wylie met former Breitbart editor, right winger and Trump campaign right-hand man Steve Bannon, Bannon introduced Wylie to Robert Mercer. According to Wylie’s account to the Guardian, there is evidence of a commercial arrangement between parent company to Cambridge Analytica, SCL, and a business called Global Science Research, owned by Cambridge academic Aleksandr Kogan.
In short, this data was acquired through a personality quiz app Kogan created called thisismydigitallife which requested access to the Facebook profiles of people who took the quiz. It would have access to those people’s friends as well, and each of the quiz-takers, roughly 320,000 people, also gave access to at least 160 other people’s profiles.
It was mirroring techniques from an earlier study by Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre that ran an app called 'myPersonality'. Facebook said that Kogan claimed to be collecting the data for academic reasons.
Ultimately this data was used, Wylie said, to target voters including in the Trump campaign.
Facebook responded by suspending Cambridge Analytica and SCL from advertising on the social network.
VP and deputy general counsel for Facebook Paul Grewal said that the claim this is a data breach is "completely false".
"Aleksandr Kogan requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent," Grewal wrote. "People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked."
Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating.
"A full understanding of the facts, data flows and data uses is imperative for my ongoing investigation," Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said. "This includes any new information, statements or evidence that have come to light in recent days.
"Our investigation into the use of personal data for political campaigns includes the acquisition and use of Facebook data by SCL, Doctor Kogan and Cambridge Analytica.
"This is a complex and far reach investigation for my office and any criminal or civil enforcement actions arising from it will be pursued vigorously."