(Adds comments from Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, Democratic
By David Ingram and Peter Henderson
March 17 (Reuters) - Data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica
harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook
users in developing techniques to support President Donald
Trump's 2016 election campaign, the New York Times and London's
Observer reported on Saturday.
The newspapers, which cited former Cambridge Analytica
employees, associates and documents, said the data breach was
one of the largest in the history of Facebook Inc.
Facebook on Friday said it was suspending Cambridge
Analytica after finding data privacy policies had been violated.
The Observer said Cambridge Analytica used the data, taken
without authorization in early 2014, to build a software program
to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.
The paper quoted Cambridge Analytica whistleblower
Christopher Wylie, who worked with an academic at Cambridge
University to obtain the data, as saying the system could
profile individual voters to target them with personalized
The more than 50 million profiles represented around a third
of active North American Facebook users, and nearly a quarter of
potential U.S. voters, at the time, the paper said.
"We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s
profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them
and target their inner demons. That was the basis that the
entire company was built on,” the Observer quoted Wylie as
The New York Times said interviews with a half-dozen former
Cambridge Analytica employees and contractors, and a review of
the firm’s emails and documents, revealed it not only relied on
the private Facebook data but still possesses most or all of it.
The Observer said the data was collected through an app
called thisisyourdigitallife, built by academic Aleksandr Kogan,
separately from his work at Cambridge University.
Through Kogan's company Global Science Research (GSR), in
collaboration with Cambridge Analytica, hundreds of thousands of
users were paid to take a personality test and agreed to have
their data collected for academic use, the Observer said.
However, the app also collected the information of the
test-takers’ Facebook friends, leading to the accumulation of a
data pool tens of millions-strong, the paper said. It said
Facebook’s “platform policy” allowed only collection of friends
data to improve user experience in the app and barred it from
being sold on or used for advertising.
Facebook said on Friday it had suspended Cambridge Analytica
and its parent group Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL)
after receiving reports they did not delete information about
Facebook users that had been inappropriately shared.
A spokesman for Cambridge Analytica said GSR "was
contractually committed by us to only obtain data in accordance
with the UK Data Protection Act and to seek the informed consent
of each respondent."
"When it subsequently became clear that the data had not
been obtained by GSR in line with Facebook’s terms of service,
Cambridge Analytica deleted all data received from GSR," he
"We worked with Facebook over this period to ensure that
they were satisfied that we had not knowingly breached any of
Facebook’s terms of service and also provided a signed statement
to confirm that all Facebook data and their derivatives had been
deleted," the spokesman said.
He added that "no data from GSR was used by Cambridge
Analytica as part of the services it provided to the Donald
Trump 2016 presidential campaign."
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Facebook did not mention the Trump campaign or any other
campaigns in its statement, which was attributed to the social
network's deputy general counsel, Paul Grewal.
"We will take legal action if necessary to hold them
responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior," Facebook
said, adding that it was continuing to investigate the claims.
In a Twitter post, Facebook's Chief Security Officer Alex
Stamos called the news reports "important and powerful," but
said it was "incorrect to call this a 'breach' under any
reasonable definition of the term."
"We can condemn this behavior while being accurate in our
description of it," he said.
On its website, Cambridge Analytica says it "provided the
Donald J. Trump for President campaign with the expertise and
insights that helped win the White House."
Brad Parscale, who ran Trump's digital ad operation in 2016
and is his 2020 re-election campaign manager, declined to
comment on Friday.
In past interviews with Reuters, Parscale has said Cambridge
Analytica played a minor role as a contractor in the 2016
campaign, and that the campaign used voter data from a
Republican-affiliated organization rather than Cambridge
Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate
Intelligence Committee, said the case was "more evidence that
the online political advertising market is essentially the Wild
West" and showed the need for Congress to pass legislation to
bring transparency and accountability to online political
The suspension means Cambridge Analytica and SCL cannot buy
ads on the world's largest social media network or administer
pages belonging to clients, Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook vice
president, said in a Twitter post.
Trump’s campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in June 2016 and
paid it more than $6.2 million, according to Federal Election
Cambridge Analytica says it uses "behavioral
microtargeting," or combining analysis of people’s personalities
with demographics, to predict and influence mass behavior. It
says it has data on 220 million Americans, two-thirds of the
It has worked on other campaigns in the United States and
other countries, and it is funded by Robert Mercer, a prominent
supporter of politically conservative groups.
Facebook in its statement described a rocky relationship
with Cambridge Analytica and two individuals going back to 2015.
That year, Facebook said, it learned that Kogan, the
Cambridge University professor, lied to the company and violated
its policies by sharing data that he acquired with a so-called
"research app" that used Facebook's login system.
Kogan was not immediately available for comment.
The app was downloaded by about 270,000 people. Facebook
said Kogan gained access to profile and other information "in a
legitimate way" but "he did not subsequently abide by our rules"
when he passed the data to SCL/Cambridge Analytica and Wylie of
Eunoia Technologies. http://bit.ly/2FZU1Ir. Eunoia did not
immediately respond to a request for comment.
Facebook said it cut ties to Kogan's app when it learned of
the violation in 2015, and asked for certification from Kogan
and all parties he had given data to that the information had
Although all certified they had destroyed the data, Facebook
said it received reports in the past several days that "not all
data was deleted," prompting the suspension announced on Friday.
(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Dustin Volz in
Washington and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru
Editing by Jonathan Weber, Joseph Radford and Paul Simao)
First Published: 2018-03-17 04:20:38
Updated 2018-03-17 19:07:48
© 2018 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved. Reuters content is the intellectual property of Thomson Reuters or its third party content providers. Any copying, republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Thomson Reuters. Thomson Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. "Reuters" and the Reuters Logo are trademarks of Thomson Reuters and its affiliated companies.