Late last night, Facebook released a statement announcing that it was suspending data analytics firm Cambridge Analytics, sternly describing how the firm had improperly obtained personal data from 270,000 people who had downloaded a personality prediction app. The implication was that the social network was being proactive, taking action against a bad player. “We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information,” vowed Facebook VP and deputy general counsel Paul Grewal. “We will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens.”
What Facebook didn’t reveal was the true extent of the data leak—which the New York Times and The Guardian disclosed in stories they published just hours after the company’s announcement. The real story was much worse. In total, more than 50 million Facebook profiles were harvested by Cambridge Analytica to build a system to target U.S. voters with political ads, a whistleblower told the papers. Even more stunning, though the firm told Facebook that it had deleted all the data, it turns out that Cambridge Analytics “still possesses most or all of the trove.”
Watch the Guardian’s video interview with former Cambridge researcher and whistleblower Christopher Wylie:
For the firm’s leaders, including board member and later Trump adviser Steve Bannon, it was all about doing battle against their political enemies. “Rules don’t matter for them. For them, this is a war, and it’s all fair,” CA founder Christopher Wylie told the Times. “They want to fight a culture war in America,” he added. “Cambridge Analytica was supposed to be the arsenal of weapons to fight that culture war.”
The firm, which assisted the Trump campaign with targeting voters and received a $15 million investment from conservative donor Robert Mercer, is now in the headlights of congressional investigators and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose team demanded and received in December internal documents about its work on the campaign.