Political clout of FB exaggerated: academic

May backs Cambridge Analytica investigation

Reuters . London | Published: 00:05, Mar 22,2018 | Updated: 23:25, Mar 21,2018

 
 

The consultancy at the centre of a storm over Facebook data greatly exaggerated its role in Donald Trump’s 2016 US presidential victory and would not have been able to sway an election result, the academic who provided the data said.
Psychologist Aleksandr Kogan also told the BBC in an interview broadcast on Wednesday that he was being made a scapegoat by Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, a British-based company hired by Trump for his election campaign.
British prime minister Theresa May told parliament she backed an investigation into Cambridge Analytica, while a German government spokesman said that using data from 50 million Facebook users for political purposes would be unacceptable.
In Europe the tax affairs of tech giants have also become a hot political issue. On Wednesday the European Commission proposed rules to make digital companies pay their fair share of tax, with the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon set to foot a large chunk of the bill.
Alexander Nix, the head of Cambridge Analytica, said in a secretly recorded video broadcast on Tuesday that his company had played a decisive role in Trump’s election victory.
‘We did all the research. We did all the data. We did all the analytics. We did all the targeting. We ran all the digital campaign and our data informed their strategy,’ Nix told an undercover reporter working for Britain’s Channel 4 News.
Nix was suspended by the company shortly before the video was broadcast.
Facebook has been rocked this week by a whistleblower who said that Cambridge Analytica had improperly accessed information on millions of Facebook users to build detailed profiles on American voters.
The revelation has knocked nearly $50 billion off Facebook’s stock market value in two days and hit the shares of Twitter and Snap over fears that a failure by big tech firms to protect personal data could deter advertisers and users and invite tougher regulation.
Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have both blamed Kogan, an academic at Cambridge University who gathered the data by running a survey app on Facebook.
Many election campaign groups across the globe gather data on their electorates, hoping to target swing voters who might be sympathetic to their message.
However, Kogan said the services provided by the UK political consultancy had been greatly exaggerated.
‘I think what Cambridge Analytica has tried to sell is magic, and they’ve made claims that this is incredibly accurate and it tells you everything there is to tell about you. But I think the reality is it’s not that,’ he said.
Arron Banks, who campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union in a 2016 referendum, also questioned the value of psychologically-based data.
Banks said that Cambridge Analytica had unsuccessfully pitched for work with his Leave.eu campaign group.
‘I don’t think they have this magical system that they say they have. I think they are nothing more than a company that places Facebook ads and shrouds in a sort of mystery,’ he said.
Kogan’s smartphone application, ‘thisisyourdigitallife,’ offered a personality prediction and billed itself on Facebook as ‘a research app used by psychologists’.
Facebook says Kogan then violated its policies by passing the data to Cambridge Analytica for commercial use, saying on Friday he ‘lied to us’. Cambridge Analytica said it destroyed the data once it realised the information did not adhere to data protection rules.
Kogan said the events of the last week had been a ‘total shell shock’. ‘My view is that I’m being basically used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,’ he said.
‘We thought we were doing something that was really normal and we were assured by Cambridge Analytica that everything was perfectly legal and within the limits of the terms of service.’
Cambridge Analytica has denied various allegations made about its business practices in recent media reports.

 

 

 

 


Kogan said he had gathered the data in 2014 because he wanted to model human behaviour through social media. He was then approached by Cambridge Analytica who provided the legal advice around the use of the data, he added.
Around 270,000 people downloaded the app, Facebook said. The app scored the results of each quiz and gathered up data from test-takers’ Facebook accounts. However, it also pulled down the data of their Facebook friends, vastly increasing the size of the sample.
Kogan put the number of app users as closer to 200,000.
The researcher said, in total, he passed the data of around 30 million American Facebook users to SCL, a government and military contractor that is an affiliate of Cambridge Analytica. Media reports have put the total number of Facebook profiles collected at around 50 million users.
Kogan said it was possible it was used in the US presidential election campaign but he did not have any knowledge of that. Asked by the BBC if he was willing to cooperate with lawmakers investigating the case, he said ‘absolutely’. ‘I think there’s a really big question here in terms of how do social media platforms actually use everybody’s data,’ he said.
US and European lawmakers have demanded an explanation of how Cambridge Analytica gained access to user data in 2014 and why Facebook failed to inform its users.
Facebook said it had been told by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the leading US consumer regulator, that it would receive a letter this week with questions about the data acquired by Cambridge Analytica. It said it had no indication of a formal investigation.


May backs Cambridge Analytica investigation
Academic behind Facebook breach says political influence was exaggerated
Reuters . London
British prime minister Theresa May on Wednesday backed an investigation into Cambridge Analytica, the consultancy at the heart of a storm over the use of Facebook data.
‘What we have seen in Cambridge Analytica, the allegations are clearly very concerning, it is absolutely right that they should be properly investigated,’ May told parliament. She said she was not aware of any current contracts between the government and Cambridge Analytica or its parent group.


Meanwhile, the consultancy at the heart of a storm over Facebook data greatly exaggerated its role in Donald Trump’s 2016 US presidential victory and would not have been able to sway an election result, the academic who provided the data said.
Facebook has been rocked this week by a whistleblower who said that Cambridge Analytica, a British-based firm hired by Trump for his election campaign, had improperly accessed information on millions of Facebook users to build detailed profiles on American voters.
The revelation has knocked nearly $50 billion off Facebook’s stock market value in two days and hit the shares of Twitter and Snap over fears that a failure by big tech firms to protect personal data could deter advertisers and users, and invite tougher regulation.
Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have both blamed Aleksandr Kogan, a psychologist at Cambridge University who gathered the data by running a survey app on Facebook.
Kogan told the BBC in an interview broadcast on Wednesday that he was being made a scapegoat by Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, saying the services provided by the political consultancy had been greatly exaggerated.
‘I think what Cambridge Analytica has tried to sell is magic, and they’ve made claims that this is incredibly accurate and it tells you everything there is to tell about you. But I think the reality is it’s not that,’ he said.
Kogan’s smartphone application, ‘thisisyourdigitallife,’ offered a personality prediction, and billed itself on Facebook as ‘a research app used by psychologists’.
Facebook says Kogan then violated its policies by passing the data to Cambridge Analytica for commercial use, saying on Friday he ‘lied to us’. Cambridge Analytica said it destroyed the data once it realised the information did not adhere to data protection rules.
Kogan said the events of the last week had been a ‘total shell shock’. ‘My view is that I’m being basically used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,’ he said.
‘We thought we were doing something that was really normal and we were assured by Cambridge Analytica that everything was perfectly legal and within the limits of the terms of service.’
Cambridge Analytica has denied various allegations made about its business practices in recent media reports.

Alexander Nix, the head of Cambridge Analytica, said in a secretly recorded video broadcast on Tuesday that his company had played a decisive role in Trump’s election victory.
‘We did all the research. We did all the data. We did all the analytics. We did all the targeting. We ran all the digital campaign and our data informed their strategy,’ Nix told an undercover reporter working for Britain’s Channel 4 News.
Nix was suspended by the company shortly before the video was broadcast.
Kogan said he had gathered the data in 2014 because he wanted to model human behaviour through social media. He was then approached by Cambridge Analytica who provided the legal advice around the use of the data, he added.
Around 270,000 people downloaded the app, Facebook said. The app scored the results of each quiz and gathered up data from test-takers’ Facebook accounts. However, it also pulled down the data of their Facebook friends, vastly increasing the size of the sample.
Kogan put the number of app users as closer to 200,000.
The researcher said, in total, he passed the data of around 30 million American Facebook users to SCL, a government and military contractor that is an affiliate of Cambridge Analytica. Media reports have put the total number of Facebook profiles collected at around 50 million users.
Kogan said it was possible it was used in the U.S. presidential election campaign but he did not have any knowledge of that. Asked by the BBC if he was willing to cooperate with lawmakers investigating the case, he said ‘absolutely’ and added he had tried to be as cooperative as possible. ‘I think there’s a really big question here in terms of how do social media platforms actually use everybody’s data,’ he said.
US and European lawmakers have demanded an explanation of how Cambridge Analytica gained access to user data in 2014 and why Facebook failed to inform its users.
Facebook said it had been told by the Federal Trade Commission, the leading U.S. consumer regulator, that it would receive a letter this week with questions about the data acquired by Cambridge Analytica. It said it had no indication of a formal investigation.
Canada’s data protection authority joined the list of regulators saying they were investigating Facebook on Wednesday.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner wants to determine whether the personal information of Canadian citizens was scooped up in the haul of Facebook member profiles used by Cambridge Analytica to target tens of millions of US voters.

 


Data firm suspends CEO over Facebook scandal
Agence France-Presse . London
Facebook expressed outrage Tuesday over the misuse of its data as Cambridge Analytica, the British firm at the centre of a major scandal rocking the social media giant, suspended its chief executive.
The move to suspend CEO Alexander Nix came as recordings emerged in which he boasts his data company played an expansive role in Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, doing all of its research, analytics as well as digital and television campaigns.
In undercover filming captured by Britain’s Channel 4 News, he is also seen boasting about entrapping politicians and secretly operating in elections around the world through shadowy front companies.
Lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic have demanded answers after it was revealed at the weekend that Cambridge Analytica improperly harvested information from 50 million Facebook users.
Cambridge Analytica has denied using Facebook data for the Trump campaign, but the scandal has ratcheted up the pressure on the social media giant – already under fire for allowing fake news to proliferate on its platform during the US campaign.
US media reported Tuesday evening that the Federal Trade Commission is investigating Facebook over the data scandal.
Facebook said its top executives were ‘working around the clock to get all the facts.’
‘The entire company is outraged we were deceived. We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information and will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens,’ the firm said.
Cambridge Analytica’s board said meanwhile that Nix would stand aside immediately pending an investigation into the snowballing allegations against him.
‘In the view of the Board, Mr. Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation,’ the company said.
In Channel 4’s recordings, Nix slights US representatives on the House Intelligence Committee to whom he gave evidence last year, claiming its Democrats are motivated by ‘sour grapes’ and Republicans asked few questions.
‘They’re politicians, they’re not technical. They don’t understand how it works,’ he was caught on camera telling an undercover reporter.
He also outlines the use of a secret self-destructing email system.
‘There’s no evidence, there’s no paper trail, there’s nothing,’ he said of the tool, which deletes emails two hours after they have been read.
Channel 4 News broadcast an interview filmed in October last year with defeated presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, in which she said she had faced ‘a massive propaganda effort’.
‘There was a new kind of campaign that was being run on the other side,’ she said. ‘It affected the thought processes of voters.’
Facebook now faces investigations on both sides of the Atlantic, sending its share price tumbling another 2.6 per cent after a 6.8 per cent plunge Monday.
European Union officials have called for an urgent investigation while British lawmakers have asked Zuckerberg to give evidence to a UK parliamentary committee.
Zuckerberg has been asked to appear before the European Parliament.
‘Facebook needs to clarify before the representatives of 500 million Europeans that personal data is not being used to manipulate democracy,’ tweeted parliament president Antonio Tajani.
US lawmakers have also called on Zuckerberg to appear before Congress, along with the chief executives of Twitter and Google.
Officials in the US states of Massachusetts and New York announced they were sending a ‘demand letter’ to Facebook for the facts of the case.
‘Consumers have a right to know how their information is used – and companies like Facebook have a fundamental responsibility to protect their users’ personal information,’ New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.
Thirteen US consumer and privacy organisations meanwhile released a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking it to reopen a probe into Facebook, saying the firm’s admission so far ‘suggests a clear violation’ of a 2011 consent decree.
A former Cambridge Analytica employee says it was able to create psychological profiles on 50 million Facebook users through the use of a personality prediction app that was downloaded by 270,000 people, but also scooped up data from friends – as was possible under Facebook’s rules at the time.
The end goal was to create software to predict and influence voters’ choices at the ballot box.
The company blames the academic who developed the app, University of Cambridge psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, for misusing the data, which it says was never used on the Trump campaign, and has in any event been deleted.
But the firm’s reputation took a severe hit on Monday, with the broadcast of a first batch of secret footage showing Nix saying it could entrap politicians in compromising situations with bribes and sex workers.
He also said the firm secretly campaigns in elections around the world, including by operating through a web of shadowy front companies, or by using sub-contractors, according to Channel 4 News.
A Cambridge Analytica spokesman told the news programme it does not use ‘untrue material for any purpose’.
Facebook, which says the data was taken without its knowledge, has launched its own investigation into Cambridge Analytica.
But it was forced to suspend its probe following a request from Britain’s information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, who is making her own inquiries into both companies.
Denham’s office said it had yet to obtain a court warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s servers, and was now expecting to secure it on Wednesday.

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