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Cambridge-Gate: Trump’s Data Analytics Team Banned from Facebook

It turns out that Cambridge Analytica, a key player in the 2016 Presidential Election, actively misused personal information.

In a statement released on Friday, Facebook revealed that it had decided to suspend Strategic Communication Laboratories, along with its political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica. The reason is said to be their excessive violation of the data collection policies.

Cambridge Analytica, which ran data operations for Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign, have been credited for helping Trump more effectively target voters on Facebook. The exact role of Cambridge Analytics remains undisclosed, but Facebook’s suspension suggests that the analytics company “improperly obtained user data that could have given it an unfair advantage in reaching voters”. Cambridge Analytics did not immediately respond to the accusations.

So how did Cambridge Analytics access and misuse personal data? In a recent blog post, the deputy general counsel of Facebook, Paul Grewal, revealed how Cambridge Analytics and the SCL sneakily came into possession of the user data. It was back in 2015 that Aleksandr Kogan, a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge, created an app called “thisisyourdigitallife”. The app supposedly predict aspects of users’ personality - given that they provide the app with information, of course. About 270,000 people downloaded the app, logged in via Facebook, and gave Kogan access to information such as their city of residence, interests, and information about their friends. Kogan then passed the data to SCL and a data harvesting firm known as Eunoia Technologies, and thereby actively violated the Facebook rules that prevent app developers to sell or give away user data. After Facebook learned of the violation, they removed Kogan’s app and asked them to destroy the improperly collected data. Kogan claimed they did.

Yet, Grewal writes in his article that Facebook later received reports, that contrary to the certifications from Kogan, revealed that not all the data was deleted. Growan writes: “(...) this is another unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments they made. We are suspending SCL/Cambridge Analytica, Wylie and Kogan from Facebook”.

 

Cambridge Analytica was hired in June 2016 to run the data operations for the the Trump presidential campaign. During the campaign, Cambridge Analytica worked alongside a digital marketing firm, Giles Parscale. While Parscale designed the ads, Cambridge data helped targeting voters. In a recent Vox article, Sean Illing explained the connection:

Kushner hired a man named Brad Parscale, a Texas-based digital expert who had worked previously for team Trump. According to Confessore and Hakim, Cambridge Analytica convinced Parscale to “try out the firm.” The decision was reinforced by Trump’s campaign manager, Steve Bannon, who is also a former vice president of Cambridge Analytica.

It’s not clear to what extent Cambridge Analytica helped), but we do know that Trump’s digital operation was shockingly effective. Samuel Woolley,, who heads the Computational Propaganda project at Oxford’s Internet Institute, found that a disproportionate amount of pro-Trump messaging was spread via automated bots and anti-Hillary propaganda. Trump’s bots, they reported at the time of the election, outnumbered Clinton’s five to one.

Cambridge Analytica has since released a statement claiming that they deleted all their data immediately after learning that they had violated the Facebook terms.


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