Cambridge Analytica under fire over data abuse claims

U.K. MPs ask Facebook’s Zuckerberg to testify on data row

March 20, 2018 10:23 pm | Updated 10:23 pm IST - LONDON

Offering a rival a “deal that is too good to be true” such as campaign finance in return for land and posting video of it on the internet. Using “beautiful” Ukrainian women as a honey trap. These were just two of the tactics outlined by Alexander Nix, the head of Cambridge Analytica, filmed as part of an undercover investigative story by Britain’s Channel 4 news, which has piled pressure on the analytics firm, which has boasted of its role in getting U.S. President Donald Trump elected.

Following weekend revelations by the Observer newspaper that the company had allegedly improperly mined 50 million Facebook users data to predict and influence voters actions, pressure on the company ratcheted up as Britain’s Information Commissioner said it was seeking a warrant to obtain information and access the company’s system, after failing to respond to a deadline of March 7.

Facebook has also agreed to stand down from its search of Cambridge Analytica’s premises at the regulator’s request.

The regulator is investigating the circumstances in which “Facebook data may have been illegally acquired and used” as part of an ongoing investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes.

Meanwhile, a British parliamentary panel asked Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg to appear before it to explain in person claims that users' data was used for political campaigns.

Posing as an agent and associate for a wealthy Sri Lankan family wishing to get into politics there, two undercover reporters held a series of meetings with top Cambridge Analytica figures, including Mr. Nix, between November 2017 and January 2018.

The recordings capture a troubling picture of the company’s global operations and effectiveness. It’s no good “fighting an election campaign on the facts because it’s actually about emotions”, a senior executive told the journalists at one meeting.

“There are things that don’t necessarily need to be true as long as they are believed,” Mr. Nix told the journalists of some of the messages the firm could help put out about potential rivals.

Gross misinterpretation

Cambridge Analytica said it rejected the allegations made in the most recent documentary, which it insisted “grossly misrepresented” the conversations and the way it conducted its business.

Facebook on Monday said it had stood down from a comprehensive audit of Cambridge Analytica at the request of the Information Commissioner, and that it was conducting a “comprehensive internal and external review”.

The developments have led to further questions about the powers of regulators to tackle such alleged inappropriate use of data. Speaking in the House of Commons, Britain’s Minister for Digital, Culture and Media Matt Hancock said the government was considering proposals from the Information Commissioner for stronger enforcement powers, and the power to compel testimony where needed.

Over the weekend, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie alleged the company used Facebook data, without the authorisation of users, in 2014, in the build-up to the U.S. Presidential election.

Set up in 2013, London-based Cambridge Analytica, funded by U.S. billionaire and Republican donor Robert Mercer, has built up into a global data mining and communications firm with a reach across the world, with offices stretching from Washington DC to Malaysia

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