(Adds Trump campaign official, paragraphs 22-23)
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 Massachusetts attorney general said her office was
launching an investigation after the news reports.
"Massachusetts residents deserve answers immediately from
Facebook and Cambridge Analytica," Maura Healey said on Twitter
in a post that linked to a Times report.
Facebook on Friday said it was suspending Cambridge
Analytica after finding data privacy policies had been violated.
The move means Cambridge Analytica and its parent group
Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) cannot buy ads or
administer pages belonging to clients.
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.
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.
It quoted whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who helped set up
Cambridge Analytica and 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 about a third
of active North American Facebook users, and nearly a quarter of
potential U.S. voters, at the time, the Observer 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,” Wylie told the Observer.
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 Observer 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 it acted against Cambridge Analytica and SCL
after receiving reports they did not delete information about
Facebook users that had been inappropriately shared. http://bit.ly/2FZU1Ir.
A Cambridge Analytica spokesman 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
"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 said "no data from GSR was used by Cambridge Analytica as
part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump 2016
$6.2 MILLION FROM TRUMP CAMPAIGN
Trump’s campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in June 2016 and
paid it more than $6.2 million, according to Federal Election
A Trump campaign official said the campaign used the
Republican National Committee for its voter data in 2016, not
"Any claims that voter data were used from another source to
support the victory in 2016 are false,” said the official, who
spoke on condition of anonymity.
In past interviews with Reuters, Brad Parscale, who ran
Trump's digital ad operation in 2016 and is his 2020 re-election
campaign manager, has said Cambridge Analytica played a minor
role as a contractor in the 2016 campaign.
He said the campaign used voter data from a
Republican-affiliated organization rather than Cambridge
Analytica. He declined to comment on Friday.
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."
Facebook did not mention the Trump campaign or any other
campaigns in its statement.
"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 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.
Acknowledging an episode as a data breach can carry legal
significance, as companies face a patchwork of state and federal
requirements to notify customers and regulators when they detect
that information has been compromised.
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
A source close to the congressional investigations into
Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign said the Trump campaign
likely will need to address whether it was aware of Cambridge
Analytica’s methods for obtaining its data or if the data was
leveraged during the 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 is funded by Robert Mercer, a prominent
supporter of politically conservative groups.
Facebook in its statement described a rocky relationship
with Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Wylie going back to 2015.
That year, Facebook said, it learned that Kogan lied to the
company and violated its policies by sharing data he acquired
with a so-called "research app" that used Facebook's login
Kogan was not immediately available for comment.
The thisisyourdigitallife app was downloaded by about
270,000 people. Facebook said Kogan gained access to profile and
other information "in a legitimate way" but "did not
subsequently abide by our rules" when he passed the data to
SCL/Cambridge Analytica and Wylie.
Facebook said it cut ties to Kogan's app when it learned of
the violation, and asked for certification from Kogan and all
parties he had given data to that the information had been
Although all certified they had destroyed the data, Facebook
said it received reports in the past several days that "not all
data was deleted."
(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom, Dustin Volz and
Chris Sanders in Washington and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru
Editing by Paul Simao, Bill Trott and Chris Reese)
First Published: 2018-03-17 04:20:38
Updated 2018-03-17 22:06:40
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