Facebook suspended Donald Trump’s data operations team for misusing people’s personal information

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook said late Friday that it had suspended Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), along with its political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, for violating its policies around data collection and retention. The companies, which ran data operations for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign, are widely credited with helping Trump more effectively target voters on Facebook than his rival, Hillary Clinton. While the exact nature of their role remains somewhat mysterious, Facebook’s disclosure suggests that the company improperly obtained user data that could have given it an unfair advantage in reaching voters.

Facebook said it cannot determine whether or how the data in question could have been used in conjunction with election ad campaigns. Cambridge Analytica did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a blog post, Facebook deputy general counsel Paul Grewal laid out how SCL came into possession of the user data. In 2015, Aleksandr Kogan, a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge, created an app named “thisisyourdigitallife” that promised to predict aspects of users’ personalities. About 270,000 people downloaded it and logged in through Facebook, giving Kogan access to information about their city of residence, Facebook content they had liked, and information about their friends.

Kogan passed the data to SCL and a man named Christopher Wylie from a data harvesting firm known as Eunoia Technologies, in violation of Facebook rules that prevent app developers from giving away or selling users’ personal information. Facebook learned of the violation that year and removed his app from Facebook. It also asked Kogan and his associates to certify that they had destroyed the improperly collected data. Everyone said that they did.

“Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted,” Grewal wrote. “We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims. If true, this is another unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments they made. We are suspending SCL/Cambridge Analytica, Wylie and Kogan from Facebook, pending further information.”

The suspension is not permanent, a Facebook spokesman said. But the suspended users would need to take unspecified steps to certify that they would comply with Facebook’s terms of service.

The Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in June 2016 to run its data operations. Separately, it had hired a digital marketing firm named Giles-Parscale to run its online advertising campaigns. Parscale designed the ads; Cambridge data helped Parscale to target voters. Sean Illing laid out the connection at Vox:

Kushner hired a man named Brad Parscale, a Texas-based digital expert who had worked previously for team Trump. According to Confessore and Hakim, Cambridge Analytica convinced Parscale (who has since agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee) to “try out the firm.” The decision was reinforced by Trump’s campaign manager, Steve Bannon, who is also a former vice president of Cambridge Analytica.

It’s not clear to what extent Cambridge Analytica helped (Parscale denied that Cambridge was of any use in a recent 60 Minutes interview), but we do know that Trump’s digital operation was shockingly effective. Samuel Woolley, who heads the Computational Propaganda project at Oxford’s Internet Institute, found that a disproportionate amount of pro-Trump messaging was spread via automated bots and anti-Hillary propaganda. Trump’s bots, they reported at the time of the election, outnumbered Clinton’s five to one.

Cambridge Analytica released a statement, saying it deleted all of its data after learning that Global Science Research did not comply with Facebook’s TOS, that it is working with the social media company to “resolve this matter as quickly as possible.”

Updated, March 17th 2018, 10:30AM ET: Updated with Cambridge Analytica’s statement.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal

What happened 7
Facebook reacts 8
The world reacts 13
The apology tour 6
Zuckerberg testifies 14
What you can do 5

Comments

FB accused others of misusing people’s personal information? lol

The difference is that when you’re on Facebook feeding Facebook your data, that’s your prerogative.

One step away from state police and big brother. #shitholecountry

Neither the police nor the government are investigating this crime as far as we know, so what’s your point?

Apparently the Massachusetts state attorney general is going after this …

Huge difference. Not sure why people want to down play it.

I met an engineer in the valley that said that Facebook has been scanning other social media sites, etc. for similar photo meta data to compare with their own. They then use the information to determine with a probability what other social media pages belong to their own users. They then use data they can gather from those correlated social media pages to better target ads, etc. I know it’s hearsay but I thought the implications were interesting.

FB aren’t the only ones …

And when you login with Facebook on another app, and give consent for profile access, that is also your prerogative.

I’ve been "clean" of Facebook for over 2 years now. Best decision I’ve ever made.

Yep. Never met a person that regretted leaving, never met a person, never met a person that had consistently positive things to say about being on it.

Never met a person who left Facebook and could shut up about it.

Hahahah true that. My personal experience has been that most people I’ve had on my list in 12 years are still on the platform. I personally spend far less time on it now, but not necessarily due to "privacy concerns". But I get why people are turned off – I can’t stand the cesspool of fake/polarizing garbage its become either.

I deleted the app. I still use it in a browser and have messenger but this is far better for me. Now I get notifications but don’t ever see then until I choose to. Getting notifications always sucked need into Facebook and then I’d waste too much time on it. I still get notified immediately for messages, which is cool for me.

It’s not like I go around touting the gospel or anything. I only mention it when relevant, like when a negative article comes out or somebody says "hey did you see that thing on Facebook". Actually now that I think about it, that may be all the time…

Sort of like the veganism of the digital world….

Yeah, since you never notice the ones who are but don’t mention it.

Like the old saying: "Nothing worse than a recovered _______ "

With GDPR on the horizon, you’ll see a lot of this.

Scoundrels should and will be punished.

Vote

I have never given the facebooks my two cents. Because I have been way up in the hills diggin up them thar GOLD! Just keep yur eyes open for coyotes!

Surely this is just basic data scraping of publicly available facebook sites?
From the video it seems all they did is take the list of users that FB grants an app and then just scrape each page one by one. If your page is public then all your likes and comments are.

I suppose you have to sign an agreement to get an FB key for your app so they maybe CA are in breach of that but it isn’t actually criminal or illegal at all. In fact, anyone can do it so probably everybody does do it!

There is no hacking of personal data involved from what I can tell. The reality is FB and Twitter etc.. allow for this gross manipulation of the public because they made a product that records their users activity and allowsit to be available to anyone with a browser. Scraping is not illegal.

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