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Facebook bans Trump-linked campaign data firm

The social network bans a data analytics firm called Cambridge Analytica after reports the firm lied about how it treated data on Facebook users.

Ian Sherr Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
3 min read
Facebook logo on a large, wall-mounted computer screen, with people in the foreground

Facebook says a data analytics firm used by Donald Trump's presidential campaign mishandled information about the social network's users.

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Facebook said late Friday that a data analytics firm affiliated with Donald Trump's presidential campaign has been suspended from its service, following allegations the firm mishandled data obtained from hundreds of thousands of users.

The social networking giant said it learned several days ago that Cambridge Analytica, a firm that among other things helps target political messages to people online, had misused data about Facebook users. The information, such as cities users said they lived in, content they liked, and information about their friends, was collected from an app called "thisisyourdigitallife" made by Aleksandr Kogan, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge.

Facebook said that in 2015, when it first learned users' data had been passed to other companies, such as Cambridge Analytica, it demanded that those companies certify the data had been destroyed. Cambridge Analytica is accused of having lied.

"Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted," Paul Grewal, a VP and general counsel at Facebook, said in a statement. "We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims."

The late-evening announcement points to another example of questionable online behavior tied to the 2016 US presidential election. We've already learned that automated bot programs and operatives working on behalf of the Russian government appear to have manipulated Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and other social networks as part of a broad misinformation campaign that's now being investigated by both the FBI and the US Senate.

Though investigators have been focused on Russia, they've also turned attention to Trump's presidential campaign, which had hired Cambridge Analytica to run data operations. Late last year, The Wall Street Journal reported the firm was asked to hand over documents to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team, which is investigating election meddling.

Now Facebook says it's received claims Cambridge Analytica misused data about more than a quarter million users. "We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people's information," Facebook said, adding that it now reviews apps to ensure they don't violate its policies. "We will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior."

Neither Cambridge Analytica, Kogan nor The White House responded to requests for comment.

Watch this: Did Facebook lose control of your information?

On Saturday morning, 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. It also pointed to a statement about the issue on its website.

Among other things, the statement says Cambridge Analytica deleted the data in question and that the firm "only receives and uses data that has been obtained legally and fairly." It also says the company's data protection policies "comply with US, international, European Union, and national regulations." Cambridge Analytica said it's in contact with Facebook "to resolve this matter as quickly as possible."

First published March 16, 8:32 p.m. PT
Update, March 17 at 9:11 a.m.: Adds statements by Cambridge Analytica.

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