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Politics

Data of 50M Facebook users obtained by Trump-linked firm

Voter profiling firm Cambridge Analytica got hold of the data without the consent of Facebook's users, say reports by The New York Times and the UK's Observer and Guardian papers.

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Millions of Facebook profiles were exploited by Cambridge Analytica, according to reports.

Scott Stein/CNET

Private information from millions of Facebook profiles was obtained by data analyst firm Cambridge Analytica without the consent of the social network's users, according to reports Saturday by The New York Times and the UK's Observer and Guardian newspapers.

The firm, which worked on Donald Trump's 2016 presidential election campaign, was able to use the information to create techniques that targeted voters during the campaign, the reports said.

Facebook documents, and former employees speaking with the Times and The Observer and The Guardian, said more than 50 million Facebook profiles were affected, and $1 million was spent in the effort.

"We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people's profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis that the entire company was built on," data scientist Christopher Wylie, who worked at Cambridge Analytica, is quoted as saying in the Observer and Guardian report.

The reports come a day after Facebook suspended the firm over allegations of it mishandling data from users. The social network said an app billed as a research tool for psychologists had originally collected the information, which included data on users' identities, friends and liked content. The app promised to give users a personality profile. People agreed to share their information with the app, but, the Times reported, only a small number of users agreed to share the data with other parties.

When Facebook discovered in 2015 that the data had been passed to companies such as Cambridge Analytica, it demanded that those businesses destroy the information. In a statement Friday, Facebook VP and General Counsel Paul Grewal said the social network is suspending Cambridge Analytica while the social network investigates reports that the data wasn't destroyed.

"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," Grewal said in a statement Saturday.

Cambridge Analytica said in a tweet that it "fully complies with Facebook's terms of service" and that it doesn't "hold or use any data" from Facebook profiles. The firm also pointed to a statement on its website in which it says the data has been deleted and that Cambridge Analytica is in contact with Facebook about the matter.

CNET has reached out to The White House for further comment, and we'll update should we hear back.