FTC rules Cambridge Analytica engaged in 'deceptive practices' with Facebook data mining

FTC rules Cambridge Analytica engaged in 'deceptive practices' with Facebook data mining
© Getty

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a unanimous ruling against Cambridge Analytica on Friday, saying the company engaged in “deceptive practices” by harvesting personal data from millions of Facebook users leading up to the 2016 election.

In its official opinion, approved by FTC commissioners in a 5-0 vote, the agency determined that Cambridge Analytica violated federal law by deceiving Facebook users about what data would be collected and how it would be used. The data was collected via an app built by the company to survey U.S.-based Facebook users.

The FTC ordered the company to stop making “misrepresentations” about how data is collected and said it needs to delete the personal data it gathered through the app.


FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips tweeted on Friday that "this enforcement action reflects our ongoing commitment to hold firms accountable to their privacy promises to American consumers."

But the practical impact of the FTC's order is unclear given that Cambridge Analytica closed its doors in 2018 shortly after filing for bankruptcy.

The New York Times and The Guardian first reported in early 2018 that Cambridge Analytica had mined the data of around 50 million Facebook users without their permission to build profiles to pinpoint voters, part of the firm's role as consultants for President TrumpDonald John TrumpNational Archives says it altered Trump signs, other messages in Women's March photo Dems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process Democratic lawmaker dismisses GOP lawsuit threat: 'Take your letter and shove it' MORE's 2016 campaign.

The data collection ended up becoming one of the largest data breaches of customer information in Facebook’s history.

Shortly after the story broke in 2018, Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Biden calls for revoking tech legal shield | DHS chief 'fully expects' Russia to try to interfere in 2020 | Smaller companies testify against Big Tech 'monopoly power' Michigan governor urges Zuckerberg to enforce community guidelines after hate speech, threats surface Smaller companies testify against Big Tech's 'monopoly power' MORE posted an update on his Facebook page listing steps the social media giant intended to take to ensure a similar incident did not occur again. Zuckerberg vowed that Facebook would “learn from this experience.”


Facebook settled with the FTC in July, and was ordered to pay $5 billion stemming from its failure to adequately protect user data. The company was then ordered to pay a separate $645,000 fine to the British government in October, also due to data privacy concerns stemming from the Cambridge Analytica incident.

The opinion and final order were issued as a result of an administrative complaint FTC staff filed about Cambridge Analytica in July, alleging the firm engaged in deceptive practices.

At the same time the complaint was filed, the FTC settled with former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix and app developer Aleksandr Kogan for their involvement with the data mining. Nix and Kogan agreed to delete or destroy any personal data they acquired.

The FTC said Friday that Cambridge Analytica never responded to the complaint filed by FTC staff earlier this year.

Nix and other executives for Cambridge Analytica could not immediately be reached for comment.