Senators demand answers from Facebook over extraordinary data breach

A group of lawmakers is demanding answers over the data breach and how it was able to happen. Officials were reacting to reports that Cambridge Analytica harvested 50 million...

  • A group of lawmakers is demanding answers over the data breach and how it was able to happen.
  • Officials were reacting to reports that Cambridge Analytica harvested 50 million users’ private information for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign 
  • Call for Mark Zuckerberg to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee
  • GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, a potential Trump primary challenger, called the breach a ‘big deal’ 
  • Calls for probe of ‘misappropriation of … the private information of tens of millions of Americans’
  • Former Cambridge Analytica employee Chris Wylie said the company used information to build psychological profiles so voters could be targeted with ads
  • Wylie criticized Facebook for facilitating the process, saying it should have made more inquiries when they started seeing the records pulled

A collection of powerful U.S. senators are demanding that Facebook explain how a third-party firm with ties to the Trump campaign was able to gain access to data on 50 million of its users.

Senior lawmakers from both political parties want answers about Cambridge Analytica, the firm with deep Trump campaign ties, was able to gain access to the data and then keep it for years.    

‘Who knew what when? This is a big deal, when you have that amount of data. And the privacy violations there are significant,’ said Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. 

‘So, the question is, who knew it? When did they know it? How long did this go on? And what happens to that data now?’ Flake told CNN’s ‘State of the Union.’

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who was one of President Trump’s GOP primary opponents, took shots at Facebook in his own appearance on the same program, telling NBCs ‘Meet the Press’ he was ‘disturbed’ by the news. 

‘Their growth has been a lot faster than perhaps their ability to mature institutionally from within on some of these challenges that they’re facing,’ Rubio said.

‘I think another part about it is sometimes these companies grow so fast and get so much good press, they get up high on themselves that they start to think that perhaps they’re above sort of the rules that apply to everybody else.’

‘Every time that we’ve spoken to them it’s kind of rolled out as more coming out,’ Rubio vented. ‘I’m disturbed by that.’

The Senate Intelligence Committee member complained about the firm: ‘Every time that we’ve spoken to them, it’s kind of rolled out as more coming out.’

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota tweeted on Saturday that Mark Zuckerberg, the firm’s multibillionaire CEO, must explain to Congress wheat happened.

‘This is a major breach that must be investigated. It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves,’ Klobuchar wrote. ‘I’ve called for more transparency & accountability for online political ads. They say ‘trust us.’ Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify before Senate Judiciary,’ she wrote. 

The New York Times reported Saturday that Cambridge, which had a $15 million investment from billionaire Robert Mercer, had maintained the data for years. Facebook banned the firm on Friday. The firm new about the leak back in December 2015, according to the Times.

Facebook said in a statement: ‘Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do, and we require the same from people who operate apps on Facebook. In 2015, we learned that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan lied to us and violated our Platform Policies by passing data from an app that was using Facebook Login to SCL/Cambridge Analytica, a firm that does political, government and military work around the globe. He also passed that data to Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, Inc.’

The firm also said it was ‘completely false’ that what happened constituted a data breach.

US Sen Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, echoed Klobuchar’s complaint.

‘This is more evidence that the online political advertising market is essentially the Wild West,’ he said. ‘It’s clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency.’

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said on Twitter that ‘Massachusetts residents deserve answers’ and announced that her office will investigate.

The officials reacted to reports in The New York Times and The Guardian of London that Cambridge Analytica, which is best known for working on Trump’s 2016 campaign, had improperly obtained Facebook user data and retained it after claiming it had deleted the information.

It was also reported that senior members of Cambridge Analytica met with Russian business executives ahead of the 2016 campaign. 

Facebook suspended the group on Friday for not fully deleting all of the data it had obtained.

 

A British lawmaker accused Facebook on Sunday of misleading officials by downplaying the risk of users’ data being shared without their consent.

Conservative legislator Damian Collins, who heads the British Parliament’s media committee, said he would ask Zuckerberg or another Facebook executive to appear before his panel, which is investigating disinformation and ‘fake news’.

Collins said Facebook has ‘consistently understated’ the risk of data leaks and gave misleading answers to the committee.

‘Someone has to take responsibility for this,’ he said. ‘It’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to stop hiding behind his Facebook page.’

Collins also accused the head of the UK-based data firm Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, of lying. 

Nix told the committee last month that his firm had not received data from a researcher accused of obtaining millions of Facebook users’ personal information.

Former Cambridge Analytica employee Chris Wylie said that the company obtained information from 50 million Facebook users, using it to build psychological profiles so voters could be targeted with ads and stories.

Wylie told Britain’s Channel 4 news that the company was able to amass a huge database very quickly from an app developed by an academic that vacuumed up data from Facebook users who agreed to fill out a survey, as well as their friends and contacts – a process of which most were unaware.

‘Imagine I go and ask you: I say, ‘Hey, if I give you a dollar, two dollars, could you fill up this survey for me, just do it on this app’, and you say, ‘Fine,” he said. 

‘I don’t just capture what your responses are, I capture all of the information about you from Facebook. But also this app then crawls through your social network and captures all of that data also.’

Wylie said that allowed the company to get roughly ’50 million plus’ Facebook records in several months. He also criticized Facebook for facilitating the process.

‘Why Facebook didn’t make more inquiries when they started seeing that, you know, tens of millions of records were being pulled this way, I don’t know,’ he said.

Lawmaker Collins said he would summon Nix to reappear before the Parliament committee.

‘It seems clear that he has deliberately misled the committee and Parliament by giving false statements,’ Collins said.

 

Source: Daily Mail UK

Featured Image: Times of India

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