Facebook suspends account of Cambridge Analytica whistleblower

Social network plans to 'take action' against all who misused data

Updated Chris Wylie, the whistleblower who has alleged the knowingly improper use of Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica, says The Social Network™ has suspended his account.

Wylie took to Twitter with the following missive.

Wylie’s allegations appeared over the weekend in The New York Times and The Observer and detail how Cambridge Analytica sought and acquired Facebook-derived data on more than 50 million people and used the trove to conduct micro-targeted political campaigns thought to have contributed to the election of Donald Trump and the leave vote carrying the Brexit referendum.

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Cambridge Analytica’s links to alt-right groups and the whiff of privacy invasions have made it a subject of considerable interest, with execs appearing before the UK Parliament's Culture Media and Sport select committee to explain itself. Wylie’s allegations paint the company as ruthless in pursuit of data that would let it deliver on its promises.

CBS news reports that Facebook and Wylie have been in contact, with The Social Network™ saying “Mr. Wylie has refused to cooperate with us until we lift the suspension on his account. Given he said he 'exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people's profiles,' we cannot do this at this time."

Cambridge Analytica has also taken to Twitter, as follows.

That’s an interesting one as it suggests the firm and Facebook have not previously been in contact, despite Facebook knowing its data had gone astray.

Another interesting one, given Cambridge Analytica’s assumed role in the Brexit vote. However both Tweets are also a little porous: the language used allows the possibility that Cambridge Analytica holds Facebook-derived data from sources other than profiles, or could have provided services to pro-Brexit organisations other than the Leave campaign.

The Register has sought comment from Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Wylie and will update this story or write a new one if they offer any additional information. ®

Updated to add

Facebook's veep and deputy general counsel has been in touch with the following 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. If these reports are true, it's a serious abuse of our rules. All parties involved — including the SCL Group/Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie and Aleksandr Kogan - certified to us that they destroyed the data in question. In light of new reports that the data was not destroyed, we are suspending these three parties from Facebook, pending further information. We will take whatever steps are required to see that the data in question is deleted once and for all — and take action against all offending parties.”

Bootnote

Another of Cambridge Analytica’s Tweets tried to paint its electioneering activities as anodyne.

As luck would have it, The Register encountered the Obama campaign’s chief technology officer, Harper Reed, in 2013. Here’s how we reported some of what he had to say.

“Data on what car you drive was not very useful in the campaign,” he said. “We did not use that much private data.” More useful, Reed said, was simple data points like a response to the question “do you support the President?” With a response to that question and information on whether an individual had voted in the past in hand, the Obama campaign was able to identify a voter as someone worthy of their attention.

We also wrote the following:

Reed also cautioned old people – anyone over 25 in his big-beard-chunky-earrings-and-thick-framed-glasses world – not to panic on the topic of privacy. Oldsters are uneasy with the notion that Facebook et al mines their data, he said. Young folk have no such qualms, understand the transactions they participate in and are more familiar with the privacy controls of the services they use.

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