Data Controversy Puts Facebook on the Ropes
Cambridge Analytica, the political data firm that worked for both the Trump and pro-Brexit campaigns, has suspended its CEO, Alexander Nix, amid furor over the access it gained to private information on more than 50 million Facebook users. The firm has been also accused of using bribes and sex workers to entrap politicians.
Everything indicates that first heads could roll soon.
Cambridge Analytica, the English data analysis consultancy that worked for the Trump team in the 2016 presidential campaign and for the pro-Brexit platform, has decided to suspend its CEO, Alexander Nix. The consultancy has been accused of filtering personal data of more than 50 million Facebook users to make voter profiles, awakening a scandal that puts into question the privacy of data in the social network.
It is no longer a secret to anyone that Facebook analyzes all the information that a user posts or comments on the network and it uses this information to adjust the ads and publicity that we will see on our wall. Facebook is able to trace data of our personality - is the user extroverted, open minded , conservative - as well as knowing if he or she is a vegan or a fan of McDonalds hamburgers. The problem that has uncovered the Cambridge Analytica scandal is: who has access to this data? Is the privacy and intimacy of users truly protected? How could a firm based in London access the personal information of 50 million users without their consent to help draw up voter profiles that would supposedly have an impact on the results of the Brexit and the US presidential elections?
"The scandal, whose real depth is not yet known, has opened an immense crisis of confidence," observes the newspaper El País.
Shortly after The Observer and The New York Times revealed last weekend Cambridge Analytica's procedures (thanks to a whistle blower) lawmakers in Washington, London and Brussels have put their batteries on and plan to summon representatives of both the consultancy and Facebook, starting with the CEO and founder, Mark Zuckerberg, to demand explanations.
Despite being based in London, Cambridge Analytica has many links to US. The firm was created in 2013 with investors like billionaire Robert Mercer, who has also funded Breitbart News, the ultraconservative online news portal run by Steve Bannon, former chief strategist of Donald Trump.
"If you know the personality of the voter, you can adjust your messages much more and multiply the impact," said Nix, CEO of the consultancy, who used to collect data from individuals to analyze their psychosocial profiles as voters. In the techniques used by Cambridge Analytica, the priority no longer lies in the age, sex or race of the voter, but in the emotional tendencies. Knowing them, you can influence them," as reported in El País.
According to information reported by British media, Cambridge Analytica began to collect information from Facebook indirectly in 2014, through a researcher at the University of Cambridge, Alexandr Kogan (with alleged links to Russia), who had the permission of the network social network to collect data from its users for academic purposes. Kogan harvested the personal details of 50 million Facebook users via a personality app he developed.
Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie told The Observer that the data Kogan obtained was used to influence the outcome of the US presidential election, a charge the firm denies, as reported in The Guardian.
As Wylie, former employee of the firm that worked together with Kogan to obtain the data, told The Observer: "We take advantage of Facebook to collect millions of profiles of people. He built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons, that was the basis upon which the whole company was based."
Facebook was aware of this data diversion and did nothing until late 2017, when decided to remove the account of Cambridge Analytica from its network.
"It is very likely that as a result of all this Cambridge Analytica disappears. Especially, after the British channel Channel 4 revealed that they were also blackmailing politicians ", the Spanish newspaper El Mundo points out.
In the images recorded with hidden camera by Channel 4, Alexander Nix appears saying that he could set traps for political candidates to influence electoral processes and that the company contributed to the victory of Donald Trump.
In the recorded encounter with an undercover journalist, Nix said about the Trump campaign: "We did all the research, all the data, all the analysis, all the guidance, we took care of the entire digital campaign, the television campaign and our data served to establish the whole strategy. "