NEW YORK: Facebook, the social network, could soon face scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in response to a data-privacy crisis connected to Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based analytics company.
The FTC will reportedly request information from Facebook following revelations that Cambridge Analytica harvested data covering 50m of the platform’s users. Regulators in Europe have also voiced similar concerns about the matter.
Cambridge Analytica – which worked on Donald Trump’s campaign for The White House – apparently secured this information from a survey of 270,000 users of Facebook who provided access to their data for research purposes.
According to a whistleblower, Cambridge Analytica then extended this data cache to cover the Facebook friends of the original cohort of 270,000 people.
The Financial Times reported that Cambridge Analytica obtained the information in question from Global Science Research, an enterprise headed by Aleksander Kogan, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge, in 2015.
While Facebook requested that the analytics provider delete this information, it was never logged as an official leak, a decision that has received considerable criticism – as has the silence, so far, of Mark Zuckerbeg, the social network’s CEO, on the topic.
On its part, Cambridge Analytica recently suspended Alexander Nix, its CEO, after the release of a video by Channel 4, the UK broadcaster, where he boasted of being able to bribe or entrap politicians.
The FTC has not formally commented on any investigation into Facebook, but stated that it takes “any allegations of violations of our consent decrees very seriously.”
More specifically, the government body cited a 2012 privacy case against Google – where the online company received a $22.5m fine in relation to cookies and targeted ads connected to Apple’s Safari browser – as evidence for this claim.
Facebook halted the practice of providing developers with automatic access to information about a users’ friends in 2015, instead demanding that permission was secured for every app concerned.
Cambridge Analytica has also stated that it deleted the problematic data, and did not deploy this information as part of the political marketing efforts performed for then-candidate Trump’s campaign.
Rob Sherman, deputy chief privacy officer at Facebook, also asserted that it was “strongly committed to protecting people’s information” and would “appreciate the opportunity to answer questions” posed by the FTC.
The social network’s stock price took a significant hit as the furor continued to build, and investors grappled with the possible fallout going forwards.
“Investors are reacting to fears of regulation and the consequences of regulation,” Brian Wieser, a senior research analyst at Pivotal Research Group, told the New York Times.
“The scale of errors can only lead one to conclude these are systemic problems.”
Sourced from Financial Times/Quartz/New York Times; additional content by WARC staff