Donald Trump’s presidential campaign hired American data-analysis firm Cambridge Analytica and its London-based parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories to gather data from over 50 million Facebook profiles to predict the behaviour of American voters, according to investigations by The New York Times and The Guardian breaching the Facebook’s privacy terms.
In 2015, The Guardian reported that Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign used data from Cambridge, and The Intercept published a piece about data acquisition in 2017. Yet this is the first time Facebook has acknowledged data gathering from American profiles.
Last Friday, Facebook posted a statement announcing they were suspending the accounts of both Cambridge and SCL, along with those of Wylie and Kogan. Paul Grewal, vice president and deputy general counsel at Facebook, wrote that Kogan legally acquired data user permission, but he broke the company’s rules by passing information along to Cambridge. “We will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behaviour”.
Facebook officials and Cambridge CEO Alexander Nix have denied any wrongdoing. And it remains unknown how much the data affected Trump’s campaign efforts. But the recent news cycle has once again ignited heated debate on the impact of data companies using Facebook to profile of citizens.
The Facebook data was combined with voter records and other sources to help determine how users could be targeted with personalized advertising. Former officials for the Trump campaign claim that Cambridge helped target audiences for ads and fundraising while mapping out where their candidate should visit to garner the most support across the country. The extent of how it was used, however, is not yet clear.