British PM backs investigation into Cambridge Analytica's Facebook data use
Former Facebook operations manager tells U.K. committee that company was lax about protecting users' data
British Prime Minister Theresa May says allegations that Facebook users' data was improperly used by political campaigns are "very concerning."
May says she expects Facebook and data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica to "comply fully" with British authorities investigating how personal information was obtained and used.
May told lawmakers in the House of Commons that "people need to have confidence in how their personal data is used."
Denham said the prime allegation against Cambridge Analytica is that it acquired personal data in an unauthorized way, adding that the data provisions act requires services like Facebook to have strong safeguards against misuse of data.
A British government spokesperson soon after clarified that the Conservative Party once held discussions with Cambridge representatives, but nothing further was pursued.
"An approach was made and the party decided not to take that forward," the spokesperson said. He said the approach pre-dated May's time as leader, but did not have further details immediately available.
The British government had three contracts in the past with SCL, it was revealed. The contracts were with the Ministry of Defence between 2014-2015, the Home Office (interior ministry) in 2009 and the Foreign Office in 2008-2009, the spokesperson told reporters, adding there are no current contracts.
Meanwhile, an academic who developed the app used by Cambridge Analytica to harvest data from millions of Facebook users said Wednesday he had no idea his work would be used in Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and that he's being scapegoated in the fallout from the affair.
Authorities in Britain and the United States are investigating the alleged improper use of Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica, a U.K.-based political research firm. Facebook shares have dropped some nine per cent, lopping more than $50 billion off the company's market value, since the revelations were first published, raising questions about whether social media sites are violating users' privacy.
The head of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, was suspended Tuesday after Britain's Channel 4 News broadcast hidden camera footage of him suggesting the company could use young women to catch opposition politicians in compromising positions. Footage also showed Nix bragging about the firm's pivotal role in the Trump campaign.
Nix said Cambridge Analytica handled "all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting" for the Trump campaign, and used emails with a "self-destruct timer" to make the firm's role more difficult to trace.
"There's no evidence, there's no paper trail, there's nothing," he said.
In a statement, Cambridge Analytica's board said Nix's comments "do not represent the values or operations of the firm, and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation."
Facebook called lax
Facebook itself is drawing criticism from politicians on both sides of the Atlantic for its alleged failure to protect users' privacy.
Sandy Parakilas, a former Facebook operations manager who worked in data protection in 2011 and 2012, told a U.K. parliamentary committee Wednesday that the company was vigilant about its network security but lax when it came to protecting users' data.
He said personal data including email addresses and in some cases private messages was allowed to leave Facebook servers with no real controls on how the data was used after that.
"The real challenge here is that Facebook was allowing developers to access the data of people who hadn't explicitly authorized that," he said, adding that the company had "lost sight" of what developers did with the data.
The committee summoned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify. Facebook sidestepped questions on whether Zuckerberg would appear, saying instead that the company is currently focused on conducting its own reviews.
Leading Democrats in the U.S. Senate also called on Zuckerberg to testify. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called Facebook's latest privacy scandal a "danger signal." She wants Zuckerberg's assurances that Facebook is prepared to take the lead on measures to protect user privacy — or Congress may step in.
Kogan's work involved modelling human behaviour through social media. In collaboration with Cambridge Analytica, he developed a Facebook-based personality survey called "This Is Your Digital Life" and paid about 200,000 people to take part. As a result, participants unknowingly gave the researchers access to the profiles of their Facebook friends, allowing them to collect data from millions more users.
Kogan said Cambridge Analytica approached him to gather Facebook data and provided the legal advice that this was "appropriate."
"One of the great mistakes I did here was I just didn't ask enough questions," he said. "I had never done a commercial project; I didn't really have any reason to doubt their sincerity. That's certainly something I strongly regret now."
He said the firm paid some $800,000 US for the work, but it went to participants in the survey.
With files from Reuters