Facebook faces new crisis over Cambridge Analytica data

Facebook faces new crisis over Cambridge Analytica data
© Getty Images

Lawmakers are demanding answers from Facebook following a report that data from 50 million users were compromised by a third party and collected by a research firm connected to the Trump campaign. 

Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark ZuckerbergHillicon Valley — States probe the tech giants Executives personally signed off on Facebook-Google ad collusion plot, states claim States push forward with Facebook antitrust case, reportedly probe VR unit MORE is now facing calls to testify before Congress as renewed scrutiny falls on the tech giant’s privacy practices.

Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharWicker: Biden comments on Ukraine caused 'distress' for both parties Effort to overhaul archaic election law wins new momentum Hillicon Valley — Senate panel advances major antitrust bill MORE (D-Minn.) and John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyLouisiana Democrat running for US Senate smokes marijuana in campaign ad MORE (R-La.) on Monday requested that the Senate Judiciary Committee call major tech CEOs to testify about how internet platforms oversee the use of consumer data for political advertising.


While the request included several tech firms, it was clearly triggered by the report about Facebook data being used by Cambridge Analytica.

“The lack of oversight on how data is stored and how political advertisements are sold raises concerns about the integrity of American elections as well as privacy rights,” the senators wrote in a letter to Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleySmall ranchers say Biden letting them get squeezed These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Hillicon Valley — Senate panel advances major antitrust bill MORE (R-Iowa).

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffMask rules spark political games and a nasty environment in the House CIA says 'Havana syndrome' unlikely a result of 'worldwide campaign' by foreign power The Hill's Morning Report - Biden to make voting rights play in Atlanta MORE (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said that panel’s Democrats want a briefing from Facebook officials about how it handled the matter.

And Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenBiden comments add momentum to spending bill's climate measures  These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans MORE (D-Ore.) wrote to Zuckerberg on Monday asking the CEO to provide answers to a detailed list of questions about the incident. 

“The troubling reporting on the ease with which Cambridge Analytica was able to exploit Facebook’s default privacy settings for profit and political gain throws into question not only the prudence and desirability of Facebook’s business practices and the dangers of monetizing consumers’ private information, but also raises serious concerns about the role Facebook played in facilitating and permitting the covert collection and misuse of consumer information,” Wyden wrote in his letter.

Facebook in a statement on Sunday said it has launched an internal review of the matter.

“We are in the process of conducting a comprehensive internal and external review as we work to determine the accuracy of the claims that the Facebook data in question still exists. That is where our focus lies as we remain committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information,” Paul Grewal, Facebook's deputy general counsel, said in a statement.

The storm around Facebook began Friday, when The New York Times and The Observer of London jointly reported that Cambridge Analytica had obtained data on more than 50 million Americans. 

The data was reportedly given to Cambridge Analytica by a researcher who had developed an app, called thisisyourdigitallife, that relied on Facebook’s login feature. While only about 270,000 people handed over information through the app, Facebook at the time allowed developers to tap into the entire friend networks of users. That feature, according to the report, allowed the researcher to collect the data of more than 50 million people.

An outgoing editor at The Observer, John Mulholland, claimed that Facebook threatened to sue his paper to stop the story.

In a blog post after the report was published, Facebook's Grewal said it was suspending the researcher, Alesandr Kogan, from its platform. Grewal said Kogan followed the company’s policies in obtaining the data since he asked for users’ permission to collect it, but went astray by giving it to a third party. 

“We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information,” Grewal wrote. “We will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens. We will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior.”

Cambridge Analytica, meanwhile, in a statement Monday said it “strongly denies” reports that it used data harvested from 50 million Facebook profiles for the Trump campaign.

“This Facebook data was not used by Cambridge Analytica as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump presidential campaign; personality targeted advertising was not carried out for this client either. The company has made this clear since 2016,” the company said.

Lawmakers want to know why it took Facebook so long to take action against Cambridge Analytica, as the company reportedly first found out that Kogan passed along the data to the research firm in 2015. 

“Why did you not suspend the company from your platform in 2015?” Wyden asked in his letter Monday.

The new scrutiny comes after a year in which lawmakers have voiced growing frustration with Facebook’s response to an alleged Russian disinformation campaign that used the platform to sow discord among voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election. 

Facebook and other major tech companies were dragged before a series of congressional committees last year as lawmakers blasted them for not doing enough to detect and combat foreign election meddling. 

While Facebook and the rest of the social media industry has largely escaped regulation, the controversy over Cambridge Analytica is already raising questions about whether the company’s good luck will continue.

"This is a major breach that must be investigated,” Klobuchar said in a statement over the weekend. “It's clear these platforms can't police themselves.”