Britain, US Probing Use of Facebook Data by British Voter Profiling Company

Social media giant Facebook faced new investigations Tuesday in both Britain and the United States about the vast troves of information compiled by the company about their users and how that data has been deployed to influence elections by Cambridge Analytica, a British voter profiling business.

British information commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she is seeking a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s London headquarters to see whether Facebook did enough to protect users’ personal information about themselves and their friends.  Weekend reports said Cambridge Analytica had improperly used information about more than 50 million Facebook users, including $6 million in work to influence Americans to vote for real estate mogul Donald Trump in his successful 2016 run for the U.S. presidency.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg News reported the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether Facebook violated terms of a consent decree it had agreed to with the agency and allowed Cambridge Analytica to use the personal data based on information Facebook users post online about themselves.  Facebook has suspended Cambridge Analytica from its vast social network.

Several U.S. lawmakers have called on Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg to testify in Congress about his firm’s use of its users’ information.

“We want to know how this happened,” Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar said.  “What’s the extent of the damage?  Fifty million of these Facebook profiles were basically stolen, hijacked, including information of people’s residence.  And then how did it happen?  Why did it happen?  And how are they going to fix this?”

White House spokesman Raj Shah told Fox News that Trump “believes that Americans’ privacy should be protected.  You know, if Congress wants to look into the matter or other agencies want to look into the matter, we welcome that.”

Denham told BBC Radio, “We are looking at whether or not Facebook secured and safeguarded personal information on the platform and whether when they found out about the loss of the data they acted robustly and whether or not people were informed.”

Investors have reacted negatively to Facebook’s role in the data breach, with its stock price dropping by nearly 10 percent in the last few days, and the company losing billions of dollars in valuation.

British television station Channel 4 News broadcast surreptitious footage Monday showing an undercover interview one of its reporters conducted with Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix in which he claimed to have used “a web of shadowy front companies” to influence elections.

According to the broadcast, with the reporter posing as someone who wanted to influence an election in Sri Lanka, Nix suggested using an attractive woman to seduce a candidate the client was looking to defeat, or sending someone posing as a wealthy developer to pass on a bribe to a politician.

After the telecast, the company said Nix’s answers came in a discussion with “ludicrous hypothetical scenarios.”

In a statement, Nix said, “I am aware how this looks, but it is simply not the case.  I must emphatically state that Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called ‘honeytraps,’ and nor does it use untrue material for any purpose.”

The company has disputed reports about its use of vast data troves from Facebook.

Facebook says its data was initially collected by a British academic, Aleksandr Kogan, who created an app on Facebook that was downloaded by 270,000 people, which provided not only their personal data, but also that of their friends they had exchanged information with.  Facebook claims Kogan then violated the company’s terms by passing the information on to Cambridge Analytica.

Britain’s Cambridge University, where Kogan teaches, on Tuesday asked Facebook for all information it has about Kogan’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica.

Kogan has told colleagues at the university he would answer questions from U.S. and British lawmakers, along with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, about his data collection from Facebook users, but so far no one has asked to interview him.

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