50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach

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  1. hmscott

    hmscott Notebook Nobel Laureate

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    Cambridge Analytica The Cambridge Analytica Files
    Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach

    Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison, Sat 17 Mar 2018 09.18 EDT
    https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/cambridge-analytica-facebook-influence-us-election

    "Whistleblower describes how firm linked to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon compiled user data to target American voters"

    "The data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the winning Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters, in one of the tech giant’s biggest ever data breaches, and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.

    A whistleblower has revealed to the Observer how Cambridge Analytica – a company owned by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and headed at the time by Trump’s key adviser Steve Bannon – used personal information taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised political advertisements.

    Christopher Wylie, who worked with a Cambridge University academic to obtain the data, told the Observer: “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 the entire company was built on.”

    Documents seen by the Observer, and confirmed by a Facebook statement, show that by late 2015 the company had found out that information had been harvested on an unprecedented scale. However, at the time it failed to alert users and took only limited steps to recover and secure the private information of more than 50 million individuals.

    The New York Times is reporting that copies of the data harvested for Cambridge Analytica could still be found online; its reporting team had viewed some of the raw data.

    The data was collected through an app called thisisyourdigitallife, built by academic Aleksandr Kogan, separately from his work at Cambridge University. Through his company Global Science Research (GSR), in collaboration with Cambridge Analytica, hundreds of thousands of users were paid to take a personality test and agreed to have their data collected for academic use.

    However, the app also collected the information of the test-takers’ Facebook friends, leading to the accumulation of a data pool tens of millions-strong. Facebook’s “platform policy” allowed only collection of friends’ data to improve user experience in the app and barred it being sold on or used for advertising. The discovery of the unprecedented data harvesting, and the use to which it was put, raises urgent new questions about Facebook’s role in targeting voters in the US presidential election.

    It comes only weeks after indictments of 13 Russians by the special counsel Robert Mueller which stated they had used the platform to perpetrate “information warfare” against the US.

    Cambridge Analytica and Facebook are one focus of an inquiry into data and politics by the British Information Commissioner’s Office. Separately, the Electoral Commission is also investigating what role Cambridge Analytica played in the EU referendum.

    “We are investigating the circumstances in which Facebook data may have been illegally acquired and used,” said the information commissioner Elizabeth Denham. “It’s part of our ongoing investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes which was launched to consider how political parties and campaigns, data analytics companies and social media platforms in the UK are using and analysing people’s personal information to micro-target voters.”

    On Friday, four days after the Observer sought comment for this story, but more than two years after the data breach was first reported, Facebook announced that it was suspending Cambridge Analytica and Kogan from the platform, pending further information over misuse of data. Separately, Facebook’s external lawyers warned the Observer it was making “false and defamatory” allegations, and reserved Facebook’s legal position.

    The revelations provoked widespread outrage. The Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced that the state would be launching an investigation. “Residents deserve answers immediately from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,” she said on Twitter.

    The Democratic senator Mark Warner said the harvesting of data on such a vast scale for political targeting underlined the need for Congress to improve controls. He has proposed an Honest Ads Act to regulate online political advertising the same way as television, radio and print. “This story is more evidence that the online political advertising market is essentially the Wild West. Whether it’s allowing Russians to purchase political ads, or extensive micro-targeting based on ill-gotten user data, it’s clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency,” he said.

    Last month both Facebook and the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, told a parliamentary inquiry on fake news: that the company did not have or use private Facebook data.

    Simon Milner, Facebook’s UK policy director, when asked if Cambridge Analytica had Facebook data, told MPs: “They may have lots of data but it will not be Facebook user data. It may be data about people who are on Facebook that they have gathered themselves, but it is not data that we have provided.”

    Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, told the inquiry: “We do not work with Facebook data and we do not have Facebook data.”

    Wylie, a Canadian data analytics expert who worked with Cambridge Analytica and Kogan to devise and implement the scheme, showed a dossier of evidence about the data misuse to the Observer which appears to raise questions about their testimony. He has passed it to the National Crime Agency’s cybercrime unit and the Information Commissioner’s Office. It includes emails, invoices, contracts and bank transfers that reveal more than 50 million profiles – mostly belonging to registered US voters – were harvested from the site in one of the largest-ever breaches of Facebook data. Facebook on Friday said that it was also suspending Wylie from accessing the platform while it carried out its investigation, despite his role as a whistleblower.

    At the time of the data breach, Wylie was a Cambridge Analytica employee, but Facebook described him as working for Eunoia Technologies, a firm he set up on his own after leaving his former employer in late 2014.

    The evidence Wylie supplied to UK and US authorities includes a letter from Facebook’s own lawyers sent to him in August 2016, asking him to destroy any data he held that had been collected by GSR, the company set up by Kogan to harvest the profiles.

    Cambridge Analytica interactive

    That legal letter was sent several months after the Guardian first reported the breach and days before it was officially announced that Bannon was taking over as campaign manager for Trump and bringing Cambridge Analytica with him.

    “Because this data was obtained and used without permission, and because GSR was not authorised to share or sell it to you, it cannot be used legitimately in the future and must be deleted immediately,” the letter said.

    Facebook did not pursue a response when the letter initially went unanswered for weeks because Wylie was travelling, nor did it follow up with forensic checks on his computers or storage, he said.

    “That to me was the most astonishing thing. They waited two years and did absolutely nothing to check that the data was deleted. All they asked me to do was tick a box on a form and post it back.”

    Paul-Olivier Dehaye, a data protection specialist, who spearheaded the investigative efforts into the tech giant, said: “Facebook has denied and denied and denied this. It has misled MPs and congressional investigators and it’s failed in its duties to respect the law.

    “It has a legal obligation to inform regulators and individuals about this data breach, and it hasn’t. It’s failed time and time again to be open and transparent.”

    A majority of American states have laws requiring notification in some cases of data breach, including California, where Facebook is based.

    Facebook denies that the harvesting of tens of millions of profiles by GSR and Cambridge Analytica was a data breach. It said in a statement that Kogan “gained access to this information in a legitimate way and through the proper channels” but “did not subsequently abide by our rules” because he passed the information on to third parties.

    Facebook said it removed the app in 2015 and required certification from everyone with copies that the data had been destroyed, although the letter to Wylie did not arrive until the second half of 2016. “We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information. We will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens,” Paul Grewal, Facebook’s vice-president, said in a statement. The company is now investigating reports that not all data had been deleted.

    Kogan, who has previously unreported links to a Russian university and took Russian grants for research, had a licence from Facebook to collect profile data, but it was for research purposes only. So when he hoovered up information for the commercial venture, he was violating the company’s terms. Kogan maintains everything he did was legal, and says he had a “close working relationship” with Facebook, which had granted him permission for his apps.

    The Observer has seen a contract dated 4 June 2014, which confirms SCL, an affiliate of Cambridge Analytica, entered into a commercial arrangement with GSR, entirely premised on harvesting and processing Facebook data. Cambridge Analytica spent nearly $1m on data collection, which yielded more than 50 million individual profiles that could be matched to electoral rolls. It then used the test results and Facebook data to build an algorithm that could analyse individual Facebook profiles and determine personality traits linked to voting behaviour.

    Key players

    The algorithm and database together made a powerful political tool. It allowed a campaign to identify possible swing voters and craft messages more likely to resonate.

    “The ultimate product of the training set is creating a ‘gold standard’ of understanding personality from Facebook profile information,” the contract specifies. It promises to create a database of 2 million “matched” profiles, identifiable and tied to electoral registers, across 11 states, but with room to expand much further.

    At the time, more than 50 million profiles represented around a third of active North American Facebook users, and nearly a quarter of potential US voters. Yet when asked by MPs if any of his firm’s data had come from GSR, Nix said: “We had a relationship with GSR. They did some research for us back in 2014. That research proved to be fruitless and so the answer is no.”

    Cambridge Analytica said that its contract with GSR stipulated that Kogan should seek informed consent for data collection and it had no reason to believe he would not.

    GSR was “led by a seemingly reputable academic at an internationally renowned institution who made explicit contractual commitments to us regarding its legal authority to license data to SCL Elections”, a company spokesman said.

    SCL Elections, an affiliate, worked with Facebook over the period to ensure it was satisfied no terms had been “knowingly breached” and provided a signed statement that all data and derivatives had been deleted, he said. Cambridge Analytica also said none of the data was used in the 2016 presidential election.

    Steve Bannon’s lawyer said he had no comment because his client “knows nothing about the claims being asserted”. He added: “The first Mr Bannon heard of these reports was from media inquiries in the past few days.” He directed inquires to Nix."

    How Cambridge Analytica’s algorithms turned ‘likes’ into a political tool
     
  2. hmscott

    hmscott Notebook Nobel Laureate

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    Facebook "failed to inform users" that Cambridge Analytica harvested millions of profiles, report…


    Cambridge Analytica: Whistleblower reveals data grab of 50 million Facebook profiles


    Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: 'We spent $1m harvesting millions of Facebook profiles'
     
  3. hmscott

    hmscott Notebook Nobel Laureate

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    How Cambridge Analytica turned Facebook ‘likes’ into a lucrative political tool
    The algorithm used in the Facebook data breach trawled though personal data for information on sexual orientation, race, gender – and even intelligence and childhood trauma
    Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison, Sat 17 Mar 2018 09.02 EDT
    https://www.theguardian.com/technol...alytica-kogan-data-algorithm?CMP=share_btn_tw

    "The algorithm at the heart of the Facebook data breach sounds almost too dystopian to be real. It trawls through the most apparently trivial, throwaway postings –the “likes” users dole out as they browse the site – to gather sensitive personal information about sexual orientation, race, gender, even intelligence and childhood trauma.

    A few dozen “likes” can give a strong prediction of which party a user will vote for, reveal their gender and whether their partner is likely to be a man or woman, provide powerful clues about whether their parents stayed together throughout their childhood and predict their vulnerability to substance abuse. And it can do all this without delving into personal messages, posts, status updates, photos or all the other information Facebook holds.

    Some results may sound more like the result of updated online sleuthing than sophisticated data analysis; “liking” a political campaign page is little different from pinning a poster in a window.

    But five years ago psychology researchers showed that far more complex traits could be deduced from patterns invisible to a human observer scanning through profiles. Just a few apparently random “likes” could form the basis for disturbingly complex character assessments.

    When users liked “curly fries” and Sephora cosmetics, this was said to give clues to intelligence; Hello Kitty likes indicated political views; “Being confused after waking up from naps” was linked to sexuality. These were just some of the unexpected but consistent correlations noted in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal in 2013. “Few users were associated with ‘likes’ explicitly revealing their attributes. For example, less than 5% of users labelled as gay were connected with explicitly gay groups, such as No H8 Campaign,” the peer-reviewed research found.

    The researchers, Michal Kosinski, David Stillwell and Thore Graepel, saw the dystopian potential of the study and raised privacy concerns. At the time Facebook “likes” were public by default.

    “The predictability of individual attributes from digital records of behaviour may have considerable negative implications, because it can easily be applied to large numbers of people without their individual consent and without them noticing,” they said.

    “Commercial companies, governmental institutions, or even your Facebook friends could use software to infer attributes such as intelligence, sexual orientation or political views that an individual may not have intended to share.”

    To some, that may have sounded like a business opportunity. By early 2014, Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix had signed a deal with one of Kosinski’s Cambridge colleagues, lecturer Aleksandr Kogan, for a private commercial venture, separate from Kogan’s duties at the university, but echoing Kosinski’s work.

    The academic had developed a Facebook app which featured a personality quiz, and Cambridge Analytica paid for people to take it, advertising on platforms such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

    The app recorded the results of each quiz, collected data from the taker’s Facebook account – and, crucially, extracted the data of their Facebook friends as well.

    The results were paired with each quiz-taker’s Facebook data to seek out patterns and build an algorithm to predict results for other Facebook users. Their friends’ profiles provided a testing ground for the formula and, more crucially, a resource that would make the algorithm politically valuable.

    To be eligible to take the test the user had to have a Facebook account and be a US voter, so tens of millions of the profiles could be matched to electoral rolls. From an initial trial of 1,000 “seeders”, the researchers obtained 160,000 profiles – or about 160 per person. Eventually a few hundred thousand paid test-takers would be the key to data from a vast swath of US voters.

    It was extremely attractive. It could also be deemed illicit, primarily because Kogan did not have permission to collect or use data for commercial purposes. His permission from Facebook to harvest profiles in large quantities was specifically restricted to academic use. And although the company at the time allowed apps to collect friend data, it was only for use in the context of Facebook itself, to encourage interaction. Selling data on, or putting it to other purposes, – including Cambridge Analytica’s political marketing – was strictly barred.

    It also appears likely the project was breaking British data protection laws, which ban sale or use of personal data without consent. That includes cases where consent is given for one purpose but data is used for another.

    The paid test-takers signed up to T&Cs, including collection of their own data, and Facebook’s default terms allowed their friends’ data to be collected by an app, unless their privacy settings allowed this. But none of them agreed to their data possibly being used to create a political marketing tool or to it being placed in a vast campaign database.

    Kogan maintains everything he did was legal and says he had a “close working relationship” with Facebook, which had granted him permission for his apps.

    Facebook denies this was a data breach. Vice-president Paul Grewal said: “Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do, and we require the same from people who operate apps on Facebook. If these reports are true, it’s a serious abuse of our rules.”

    The scale of the data collection Cambridge Analytica paid for was so large it triggered an automatic shutdown of the app’s ability to harvest profiles. But Kogan told a colleague he “spoke with an engineer” to get the restriction lifted and, within a day or two, work resumed.

    Within months, Kogan and Cambridge Analytica had a database of millions of US voters that had its own algorithm to scan them, identifying likely political persuasions and personality traits. They could then decide who to target and craft their messages that was likely to appeal to them – a political approach known as “micro-targeting”.

    Facebook announced on Friday that it was suspending Cambridge Analytica and Kogan from the platform pending information over misuse of data related to this project.

    Facebook denies that the harvesting of tens of millions of profiles by GSR and Cambridge Analytica was a data breach. It said in a statement that Kogan “gained access to this information in a legitimate way and through the proper channels” but “did not subsequently abide by our rules” because he passed the information onto third parties."
     
  4. hmscott

    hmscott Notebook Nobel Laureate

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    Cambridge Analytica: how big data shaped the US election
    Published on Oct 24, 2016
    The Clinton campaign has mounted one of the most sophisticated operations in political history.
    Across the key battleground states they've been raising vast sums of money, targeting supporters, running ads, preparing to get out the vote.
    Donald Trump has done relatively little of this - so how big a difference could it make?


    Did Cambridge Analytica play a role in the EU referendum? - BBC Newsnight
    Published on Jul 13, 2017, Newsnight
    Did the data analytics company Cambridge Analytica play a role in the UK's EU referendum? BBC Newsnight’s Gabriel Gatehouse reports.


    Molly Schweickert, Cambridge Analytica: Keynote d3con 2017
    Published on May 12, 2017
    Molly Schweickert from Cambridge Analytica on "How digital advertising worked for the US 2016 presidential campaign"


    Dark Data: Trump Backers Bankroll Firm Developing Psychological Profiles of Every U.S. Voter
    Published on Mar 23, 2017
    One of the more mysterious parts of the Mercer family’s political orbit is Cambridge Analytica. The data firm claims it has psychological profiles of over 200 million American voters. The firm was hired by the Trump campaign to help it target its message to potential voters. The Mercers have bankrolled the company and placed Steve Bannon on its board. We speak to The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer.
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2018
  5. Primes

    Primes Notebook Deity

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    This is the reason i don't have a facebook account.
     
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  6. hmscott

    hmscott Notebook Nobel Laureate

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    Reporter: Facebook "not showing much accountability"
    Published on Mar 17, 2018
    A data firm with ties to the Trump 2016 election campaign, mined data from Facebook profiles of millions of Americans without their permission, and used the data to support President Trump's candidacy. Annalisa Merelli, a geopolitics reporter for Quartz, joins CBSN to discuss.
     
  7. hmscott

    hmscott Notebook Nobel Laureate

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    What to know about Cambridge Analytica

    How did Steve Bannon use Cambridge Analytica?

    Cambridge Analytica boss under fire from MPs

    Who is Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie?
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2018
  8. hmscott

    hmscott Notebook Nobel Laureate

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    Facebook: "One of the largest data breaches in the history of the company"
     
  9. hmscott

    hmscott Notebook Nobel Laureate

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    Professor sues data company tied to Trump campaign

    Published on Mar 19, 2018
    A New York professor filed a legal claim against a data company that worked for President Donald Trump's campaign in a British court Friday in a case that could shed light on how millions of American voters were targeted online in the run-up to the 2016 election.
    NY Professor sues data company tied to Donald Trump Campaign
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2018
  10. Fishon

    Fishon I Will Close You

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    $40B is lost market cap today.
     
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