The British political consulting firm known as Cambridge Analytica (CA) saw their London offices in London raided by authorities. The raid was carried out as a part of a larger investigation into the alleged misuse of personal information by social media companies such as Facebook and political campaigns. More than a dozen investigators from the Information Commissioner (ICO) entered the firm late Friday, just after a High Court judge granted a warrant. ICO spent more than seven hours at the New Oxford Street offices.
CA, known for working on President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, as well as the Brexit vote, is now being investigated over whether it improperly used data from around 50 million Facebook users to target voters with ads and political messages. The firm was also hired and subsequently fired during course of the 2016 presidential primaries by Ted Cruz and Ben Carson.
Last fall, special counsel Robert Mueller asked CA to turn over all emails from any employees who worked on the Trump campaign contract. The firm complied with that request. The Trump campaign’s contact with the firm ended before the general election according to CBS News.
CBS reported – “The Trump campaign never used the psychographic data at the heart of a whistleblower who once worked to help acquire the data’s reporting — principally because it was relatively new and of suspect quality and value.The profiling approach utilized by Cambridge Analytica allowed it to predict the voting likelihoods of individual people based on personality, the firm claimed.
The crucial decision was made in late September or early October when Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s digital guru on the 2016 campaign, decided to utilize just the RNC data for the general election and used nothing from that point from Cambridge Analytica or any other data vendor. ”
The Cruz campaign also dropped the company during the 2016 presidential primaries after the campaign discovered its psychographic models were unable to identify likely Cruz supporters.
However, the topic of illegal data mining still remains. As a result, the UK’s information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, sought a warrant for CA’s systems on Monday evening after the company did not respond to her previous demand for its records and data.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been in full damage control mode in trying to mitigate the damage from the scandal. He initially released a statement on March 21, 2018, via Facebook in which he admitted the company’s protections for user data were too weak prior to 2014 when apps were allowed to access data on users’ friends.
Another startling revelation was made around the same time from a former top staffer for the Obama administration. The former Obama staffer revealed Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign used this very same technology to gain access to data on the “entire social graph” of Facebook — the friends of every American user. Yet there was no mention of this in Zuckerberg’s statement. The statement instead focuses on CA and the accusations that the firm failed to delete user data that had been passed to them by an academic, Aleksandr Kogan, who obtained the data via legitimate means.
According to Carol Davidsen, a former Obama staffer who oversaw the former president’s data operations during the 2012 elections, Facebook was alarmed by the amount of data they had access to, but made a special exception for the Obama campaign because they were “on their side.”
They came to office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.
— Carol Davidsen (@cld276) March 19, 2018
CA claims they did comply with Facebook’s request to delete the data and no Facebook data was used during the 2016 election. Zuckerberg’s statement claims Facebook “learned from The Guardian, The New York Times and Channel 4 that Cambridge Analytica may not have deleted the data as they had certified.” However, he also conceded that Cambridge Analytica denies the media’s allegations and that Facebook has yet to independently verify them.
Meanwhile, CA’s CEO Alexander Nix was suspended on Tuesday evening of this past week after revelations he was secretly filmed offering to entrap politicians with bribes and sex workers on behalf of a client and boasting about his company’s role in Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory. The hidden camera capture Nix offering a prospective client on methods to entrap a political rival – including bribes, sex workers and even an offer “he can’t refuse.” However, CA denies any use of bribes, entrapment, or “so-called honey-traps.”
Except the so-called “prospective client” was the UK’s ITN Channel 4 news. The news channel conducted a four-month undercover investigation into CA posing as potential clients interested in affecting the outcome of the Sri Lankan elections. This investigation revealed Nix has secretly worked to influence over 200 elections around the world and in some cases even using subcontractors or various front companies. CA operatives would often post as students or tourists in order to maintain their cover.
One particular exchange shows Nix suggesting his firm could send “some girls around to the candidate’s house” in an effort to obtain compromising information as well as to create political leverage. Nix states tellingly – “It doesn’t have to be true. It just has to be believed.”
Another segment shows Nix discussing how CA will “offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, and we’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the internet.”
CA’s managing director Mark Turnbull was also caught on video discussing his various relationships with former UK spies now working at private companies and various Israeli intelligence sources. This network could be tapped for private intelligence gathering.
A came under scrutiny after a whistleblower named Chris Wylie told The Guardian that he helped the company develop a Facebook app known as called “thisismydigitallife” which would pay individuals to take a survey. However, unbeknownst to users was those that had not adjusted their privacy settings on Facebook were then subject to massive data harvesting as were their friends and contacts.
Former Cambridge Analytica contractor Christopher Wylie tells CNN’s @donlemon that he helped build a “psychological warfare weapon” to “exploit mental vulnerabilities that our algorithms showed that [Facebook users] had." https://t.co/3u8JNn3DlO pic.twitter.com/GhIFPU1sci
— CNN (@CNN) March 20, 2018
Wylie spoke of how he helped to develop what he termed as a “psychological warfare weapon” to capitalize on the “vulnerabilities” of some 50 million Facebook users to CBS News. He stated -“Publicly, the company advertises its ability to build “psychographic” profiles that can microtarget social media political advertising to people based on traits like ‘extroversion’ or ‘neuroticism.’”
Wylie revealed to CNN on Monday evening even more details, stating – “What we worked on was … data harvesting programs where we would pull data from users of apps and all of their friend networks and run that data through algorithms that could profile their personality traits and other psychological attributes.”