Data Firm Accused of Swaying Elections and Illegal Data Harvesting

Secretly-taken footage from a British investigative reporter shows Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm that has had numerous high-profile clients, had suggested swaying elections by entrapping politicians with prostitution and bribery. The footage was released on March 19th and records hours of condemnatory dialogue between the journalist and Alexander Nix, who was chief executive of Cambridge Analytica before his suspension in response to the scandal.

Cambridge Analytica is a British data firm started in 2013 who has helped in many notable campaigns, from Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign to a pro-Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom called Leave.EU. Two notable investors of the firm are Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House Chief Strategist in the Trump administration as well as Robert Mercer, who invested 15 million dollars into the company. The ties between Cambridge Analytica and the Trump election have raised questions about their business practices during his campaign. Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating the President and his possible collusion with Russia, requested the emails of Cambridge Analytica employees working for Donald Trump.

In June 2014, Cambridge Analytica hired a professor of psychology at Cambridge University, Aleksandr Kogan, to collect millions of Facebook users’ information without their knowledge. To do this, he told Facebook he was a researcher accessing data for scholarly purposes, something Facebook allows as well as something users agree to when signing up. However, Kogan did not disclose the fact that he was then selling this information to a business, an act strictly prohibited by Facebook. In response to claims that the harvested data was not immediately destroyed at Facebook’s request, the social media giant suspended Cambridge Analytica and Kogan; additionally, Facebook hired a digital forensics firm to investigate the claims made by Christopher Wylie.

Accusations of disreputable business practice came when Cambridge Analytica was already under fire from a story that broke just days earlier, when they were found to be illegally harvesting data from 50 million Facebook users. Christopher Wylie, a former employee for Cambridge Analytica who released the documents to reporters, revealed that the information gathered from Facebook without user consent was used to sway voters in favor of Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential election. “They want to fight a culture war in America,” said Wylie. “Cambridge Analytica was supposed to be the arsenal of weapons to fight that culture war.”

While Cambridge Analytica has bore the brunt of people’s wrath from their unlawful data mining, Facebook is also facing widespread discontent. From Cher to Will Ferrell, thousands have taken up the hashtag #DeleteFacebook to express their anger at the company, with over 40,000 mentions on Twitter. Elon Musk, another proponent of the movement, deleted his personal account along with his business pages for SpaceX and Tesla. The pages had over 2.6 million likes and follows. The Federal Trade Commission also recently began investigating whether Facebook violated an agreement on user privacy, and a committee in the British Parliament asked Mark Zuckerberg to testify on Facebook’s ties to Cambridge Analytica.

 

By Jordan King

Credit: Wikimedia

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