Federal Trade Commission investigates Facebook after Cambridge Analytica scandal

The following has not yet been verified. Please improve it by logging in and editing it. If you believe that is not sufficient to solve the problem, please discuss it with the community on the Talk Page. If you think that this article should be removed, please contact [email protected]
  1. FTC cites reports that bring up "substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook"
  2. Facebook CEO vows to protect data in wake of exposé
  3. Cambridge University distances itself from data row
  4. Cambridge Analytica says it's the victim of media anger at Trump

Facebook is being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission over allegations that the social media giant inadequately protects user data. The U.S. agency charged with consumer protection said that it is committed to “enforcement action” against companies that “fail to honor their privacy promises.” 

“The FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook,” said the official statement from Tom Pahl, Acting Director of the FTC. “Today, the FTC is confirming that it has an open non-public investigation into these practices.”

News of the investigation triggered a sharp decline in the value of Facebook stock. This drop is on top of the 13 percent dip that came after initial reports that the political strategy firm Cambridge Analytica had harvesting data of roughly 50 million users in order to help the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump. (CNBC).

(Help us report on how the U.S. government is investigating and questioning Facebook). 

Facebook faces up to new responsibilities

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg apologized on March 21, five days after the Cambridge Analytica story surfaced. He said his company was in a constant arms race against those who would exploit its huge reach for the wrong reasons. He promised to take action to give users greater control over their data and to audit past use.

In a statement on his own Facebook page, and a later interview with CNN, Zuckerberg pushed responsibility for a crisis which has hit Facebook’s reputation and stock price on to Cambridge University psychometrics researcher Aleksandr Kogan and Cambridge Analytica, accusing both of a breach of trust and rules. Kogan has said he is an innocent scapegoat — which his colleagues challenge.

‘I’m really sorry that this happened’ – Zuckerberg

“We will learn from this experience to secure our platform further and make our community safer for everyone going forward,” Zuckerberg said in his Facebook post which appeared to cover the same ground as earlier statements and did not offer an apology to the 50 million Facebook users whose data was apparently absorbed into Cambridge Analytica’s tools to identify and predict political behavior.

In the CNN interview, Zuckerberg said: “This was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry that this happened. We have a basic responsibility to protect peoples’ data.”

Facing calls from politicians in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe to appear before them to answer allegations Facebook had allowed its data to be misused and also that the company had misled earlier investigations, Zuckerberg said he would do so if it was the right thing to do and if he didn’t think there was someone more qualified to speak at Facebook. Under question he recognized some would now want the two billion user organization to be regulated. He promised tougher internal policing of applications built on its platform.

The 33-year-old founder of Facebook said he could not have imagined when he created the network that he would be dealing with questions of its role in democracy after allegations that it was manipulated by Russian groups — and apparently by Cambridge Analytica — on behalf of the campaign of Donald J. Trump in the 2016 elections. He said Facebook was trying to get ahead of the same challenges ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections for both houses of Congress.

“If you told me in 2004, when I was getting started with Facebook, that a big part of my responsibility today would be to help protect the integrity of elections against interference by other governments, you know, I wouldn’t have really believed that,” Zuckerberg said.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks on stage during the annual Facebook F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, U.S., April 18, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
FILE PHOTO: Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks on stage during the annual Facebook F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, U.S., April 18, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Alexander Nix, the now-suspended chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, has been secretly recorded — with other company staff — as saying the company was responsible for the surprise Trump victory and had played a key role in everything from data analysis to the spread of viral advertising and methods to get around U.S. rules on election spending and coordination between candidates and supporters.

Cambridge Analytica and the road from Cambridge University

Facebook is at the center of a crisis triggered by a series of damaging disclosures about the methods, conduct, and claims of Cambridge Analytica, whose political research was at the heart of the highly targeted social media strategy used by the Trump campaign. The firm is controlled by Trump ally Robert Mercer. Former Trump strategy director Steve Bannon was a vice president and secretary of Cambridge Analytica (CNN).

In 2014, Facebook allowed Kogan, a Cambridge University psychologist, to conduct an online quiz that accessed data of 20-to-50 million users, ostensibly for academic purposes. At the heart of the allegations is that Kogan shared the data – through his own commercial firm separate from the university – with Cambridge Analytica or associated companies. That allegedly helped Cambridge Analytica build the data models which allowed it to target specific groups and even individual voters as part of its work for the Trump campaign.

Cambridge University is itself in the frame about what it knew and when. A faculty member who worked with Kogan told WikiTribune that staff raised concerns about Kogan’s use of data several years before the scandal emerged: “He started this whole fiasco through his unethical behavior toward fellow academics and his participating in the plan to harvest data on millions of users.”

In its own statement the university said it’s seeking answers from Facebook as to what its faculty member, Kogan, may or may not have done with data from the social platform (statement below in Sources & References). The Financial Times reported on Thursday that the university had employed a legal arbitrator four years ago to intervene in disputes between Kogan and colleagues in the Psychometrics Center.

Facebook and its terms and conditions

Facebook has been careful to say the exposure of data to Cambridge Analytica was not a hack, instead characterizing events as an example of an organization selling user data – which the platform says it expressly prohibits.  In 2014, when Kogan’s online quiz scraped user data, Facebook allowed companies to mine such data, as well as their friends’ data, a practice that’s since been banned (New York Times).

In a BBC interview, Kogan said he was being made the “scapegoat” for a scandal that belongs to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. He said Cambridge Analytica assured him their operations were “perfectly legal and within the terms of service.”

A former Facebook product manager, however, gave video evidence to a British parliamentary inquiry on Wednesday in which he said the company had acted “two-and-a-half-years late” on Cambridge Analytica and had been weak on allowing partners to take user data.

“The real challenge here is Facebook was allowing developers to access data of people who hadn’t explicitly granted that,” Sandy Parakilas told the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport committee, which has the power to call witnesses and acts as a check-and-balance on those policy areas. Paralikas said the “move fast and break things” motto of Facebook permeated its culture. He suggested while it had “very, very” strong security to protect its own systems, it was less focused on user data that went outside the system.

On Tuesday, Britain’s data protection agency said it was pursuing a warrant to investigate Cambridge Analytica over the alleged misuse of data from 50 million Facebook users and the offer of dirty tricks – including honey traps and scams – by executives of the data company.

The controversy moved a step closer to Trump himself, with The Guardian and Channel 4 News carrying footage of and quotes from Cambridge Analytica executives saying they had engineered the Trump digital campaign and met the candidate. The latest parts of the exposé reported the deployment of untraceable attack advertising on rivals, self-destructing emails to protect the confidentiality of what Cambridge Analytica was doing for its clients, and the use of so-called political action committees, apparently to get around U.S. electoral law on spending and coordination


Earlier reporting – Zuckerberg, whistleblower

Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica, a controversial name in politics because of its connections with the Trump campaign and long-standing questions about its use of data, from its platform just prior to the investigation published by The Observer, The New York Times, and Britain’s Channel 4 News. It also suspended Kogan, whose study was the origin of the data.

Alexander Nix, the now-suspended chief executive officer of Cambridge Analytica, accused the media of a “coordinated attack” because of the company’s work in helping the Trump campaign. In the secret recordings he is heard bragging about its sophisticated data analysis tools that allowed the precise targeting of messages to votes in key electorates. He went further to suggest on secret recordings that his firm and associates could work with others to embarrass politicians with sex traps, fake stories, and other dirty tricks. He said the firm had worked in Kenya, the United States, and many other elections.

Are you worried about your data on Facebook?


Do suggest any changes or improvements to this story

Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica arrives at the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Alexander Nix (2nd from left), CEO of Cambridge Analytica arrives at the offices of Cambridge Analytica, pursued by a Channel 4 News reporter in central London, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Nix was speaking shortly before Channel 4 News aired footage recorded secretly, appearing to show Nix and an associate from Cambridge Analytica telling someone they believed was a potential customer from Sri Lanka they could provide far more than targeted political data.

In the video, Nix appears to say that his company could arrange to send “someone posing as a wealthy [land] developer … they will offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land, for instance.” He also said that Ukrainian women had proven to be effective in seducing targeted politicians. Cambridge Analytica issued a statement denying offering such services.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she had sought a warrant to investigate Cambridge Analytica and that Facebook had agreed to stand down its own investigation to allow her staff “access to systems and evidence related to her investigation.” Denham’s office is an independent regulator with the power to investigate and safeguard data protection laws. She said her agency would also investigate Facebook’s handling of the data obtained by Cambridge Analytica.

The Guardian and The Observer newspapers have been at the forefront of journalistic investigations into Cambridge Analytica for several years, starting from the origin of some of the contested data in psychometric research by academics at Cambridge University. It is that data, collected from Facebook users, which is at the center of allegations of the misuse of data from 50 million Facebook users.

Political data firm defends its work

Before the Channel 4 video was released, Nix defended Cambridge Analytica in a press release denying it engaged in “entrapment, bribes, or so-called ‘honeytraps.'” He explained the comments in the video as attempts “to spare our ‘client’ from embarrassment.”

The exposé was based in part on information from what The Observer described as a whistleblower, former Cambridge Analytica employee, Christopher Wylie. Cadwalladr said in a video interview it took a year until they could put his claims on the record (CBS News).

“This was a scam – and a fraud,” The New York Times quoted Paul Grewal, a vice president and deputy general counsel at Facebook as saying last week of Cambridge Analytica’s original use of the data obtained from Facebook originally under the guise of a Cambridge University academic study.

You can edit or expand this story


Cambridge Analytica, whose motto is “Data drives all we do” and whose political division says: “We find your voters and move them to action” was quoted in the New York Times version of the report as attacking Wylie’s motives, saying he had left to found a rival company and was involved in “what is clearly a malicious attempt to hurt the company.”

Wylie was quoted in The Observer as saying: “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.”

Cambridge Analytica and some of its founding figures have been controversial (Motherboard, Vice). The involvement of Mercer (The Guardian) and Bannon and the firm’s apparent skill in identifying the political leanings of and therefore potentially influential messaging to American voters in 2016, was seen as key to Trump’s success. It has also worked in many other countries.

Discuss or suggest changes or lines of inquiry


Image information

  • TODO tags

      Is there a problem with this article? [Join] today to let people know and help build the news.
      • Share
      • Sources

        A copy of the statement on Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook post on the Cambridge Analytica issue:

        I want to share an update on the Cambridge Analytica situation — including the steps we’ve already taken and our next steps to address this important issue.

        We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you. I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago. But we also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it.

        Here’s a timeline of the events:

        In 2007, we launched the Facebook Platform with the vision that more apps should be social. Your calendar should be able to show your friends’ birthdays, your maps should show where your friends live, and your address book should show their pictures. To do this, we enabled people to log into apps and share who their friends were and some information about them.

        In 2013, a Cambridge University researcher named Aleksandr Kogan created a personality quiz app. It was installed by around 300,000 people who shared their data as well as some of their friends’ data. Given the way our platform worked at the time this meant Kogan was able to access tens of millions of their friends’ data.

        In 2014, to prevent abusive apps, we announced that we were changing the entire platform to dramatically limit the data apps could access. Most importantly, apps like Kogan’s could no longer ask for data about a person’s friends unless their friends had also authorized the app. We also required developers to get approval from us before they could request any sensitive data from people. These actions would prevent any app like Kogan’s from being able to access so much data today.

        In 2015, we learned from journalists at The Guardian that Kogan had shared data from his app with Cambridge Analytica. It is against our policies for developers to share data without people’s consent, so we immediately banned Kogan’s app from our platform, and demanded that Kogan and Cambridge Analytica formally certify that they had deleted all improperly acquired data. They provided these certifications.

        Last week, we learned from The Guardian, The New York Times and Channel 4 that Cambridge Analytica may not have deleted the data as they had certified. We immediately banned them from using any of our services. Cambridge Analytica claims they have already deleted the data and has agreed to a forensic audit by a firm we hired to confirm this. We’re also working with regulators as they investigate what happened.

        This was a breach of trust between Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. But it was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it. We need to fix that.

        In this case, we already took the most important steps a few years ago in 2014 to prevent bad actors from accessing people’s information in this way. But there’s more we need to do and I’ll outline those steps here:

        First, we will investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information before we changed our platform to dramatically reduce data access in 2014, and we will conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity. We will ban any developer from our platform that does not agree to a thorough audit. And if we find developers that misused personally identifiable information, we will ban them and tell everyone affected by those apps. That includes people whose data Kogan misused here as well.

        Second, we will restrict developers’ data access even further to prevent other kinds of abuse. For example, we will remove developers’ access to your data if you haven’t used their app in 3 months. We will reduce the data you give an app when you sign in — to only your name, profile photo, and email address. We’ll require developers to not only get approval but also sign a contract in order to ask anyone for access to their posts or other private data. And we’ll have more changes to share in the next few days.

        Third, we want to make sure you understand which apps you’ve allowed to access your data. In the next month, we will show everyone a tool at the top of your News Feed with the apps you’ve used and an easy way to revoke those apps’ permissions to your data. We already have a tool to do this in your privacy settings, and now we will put this tool at the top of your News Feed to make sure everyone sees it.

        Beyond the steps we had already taken in 2014, I believe these are the next steps we must take to continue to secure our platform.

        I started Facebook, and at the end of the day I’m responsible for what happens on our platform. I’m serious about doing what it takes to protect our community. While this specific issue involving Cambridge Analytica should no longer happen with new apps today, that doesn’t change what happened in the past. We will learn from this experience to secure our platform further and make our community safer for everyone going forward.

        I want to thank all of you who continue to believe in our mission and work to build this community together. I know it takes longer to fix all these issues than we’d like, but I promise you we’ll work through this and build a better service over the long term.



        A statement from the Cambridge University communications department:

        Statement 21 March 2018

        We are aware of the allegations surrounding Dr Aleksandr Kogan (who also goes by the married name Spectre), a Senior Research Associate at the Department of Psychology, which have been widely reported in the media.

        Dr Kogan joined the Department of Psychology as a lecturer in 2012, where he established the Cambridge Prosociality and Well-Being Lab.

        In 2014, Dr Kogan established his own commercial enterprise, Global Science Research (GSR). We understand from Dr Kogan that one of his clients was SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica.

        It is not uncommon for Cambridge academics to have business interests, but they must satisfy the University that these are held in a personal capacity and that there are no conflicts of interest.

        We have previously sought and received assurances from Dr Kogan that no University resources or facilities and none of the data collected for his academic research were used for his work with GSR or the company’s subsequent work with any other party.

        We understand from Dr Kogan that he originally created a Facebook app for academic research; however, when the app was repurposed for use by GSR, it was rebranded and released with new terms and conditions, and it was made clear that this was commercial, not academic, research.

        Facebook has made a series of allegations surrounding Dr Kogan’s use of data. The University of Cambridge takes matters of research integrity and data protection extremely seriously. We have to date found no evidence to contradict Dr Kogan’s previous assurances; nevertheless, we have written to Facebook to request all relevant evidence in their possession.

        We also understand that Dr Kogan undertook work at St Petersburg University, Russia. Again, researchers are permitted to undertake academic research outside the University of Cambridge provided it does not interfere with the performance of their duties. Dr Kogan correctly sought permission from his Head of Department at the time to work with St Petersburg University; it was understood that this work and any associated grants would be in a private capacity, separate to his work at the University of Cambridge.

        Finally, we would like to make it clear that, despite its name, Cambridge Analytica has no connection or association with the University of Cambridge whatsoever.

        Statement Ends.

      Subscribe to our newsletter

      Be the first to collaborate on our developing articles

      WikiTribune Open menu Close Search Like Back Next Open menu Close menu Play video RSS Feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit Follow us on Instagram Follow us on Youtube Connect with us on Linkedin Connect with us on Discord Email us