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- Analytics firm Cambridge Analytica obtained data on millions of users to influence the 2016 election and Brexit vote, according to a whistleblower.
- Facebook asked Cambridge Analytica to delete that data back in 2016, but never verified that it did.
- In the wake of an uproar, Facebook just promised to find out if CA still has the data.
- It hired Stroz Friedberg, the same investigator once used by Uber.
Facebook released a statement on Monday saying that it hired Stroz Friedberg, a digital forensics firm, to determine whether Cambridge Analytica, the analytics company it banned from its platform on Friday, still possesses any Facebook user data.
The data was taken from 50 million Facebook users back in 2014 through a sneaky method: a quiz app called “thisisyourdigitallife,” which was billed as a personality quiz, but which actually gathered data on people who used the app and their Facebook friends. The data was then used to send targeted political ads to people in 2016 US election and the Brexit vote, The Observer reports.
The man who built that app, Aleksandr Kogan, has ties to Cambridge University, as well as the Russian government.
In 2015, Facebook became aware that the app was violating Facebook’s terms, and in 2016, sent a letter to the people and companies involved demanding that they delete the user data, The New York Times reports.
Those associated with Cambridge Analytica promised to delete the data, but Facebook never followed up to verify they kept that promise. It didn’t even ban Cambridge Analytica from its platform until Friday, just before news reports were about to publish on the situation.
Such an investigation is, for all practical purposes, too little and too late. The New York Times said it has seen copies of the data that still exist out in the wild.
And there are other things to note about Facebook’s statement. For instance, it says it’s hiring Stroz Friedberg as the investigator. This was the same investigator Uber hired to determine if former Google’s self-driving car engineer Anthony Levandowski had taken any intellectual property with him when he left the company. To refresh your memory, Stroz discovered that Levandowski did possess thousands of those files, which was revealed because Waymo, Google’s self-driving spin-off company, sued Uber.
And we can’t help point out this part of Facebook’s statement, too:
“This is data Cambridge Analytica, SCL, Mr. Wylie, and Mr. Kogan certified to Facebook had been destroyed. If this data still exists, it would be a grave violation of Facebook’s policies and an unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments these groups made.”
Facebook seems to be shocked that people who had disreputably gathered its user data in the first place couldn’t be trusted to simply delete the data when Facebook asked them to do so.
The rest of the world isn’t so convinced that Facebook should be let off the hook.
The hashtag #deletefacebook has been trending on Twitter.
The European Union has launched an investigation into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. So has the attorney general of Massachusetts.
And Ron Wyden, a senator on the committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US election, has sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demanding answers as well.