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Facebook probes employee's ties to Cambridge Analytica

A current Facebook researcher formerly worked for a company that reportedly provided information to the controversial data firm.

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook is investigating links one of its current employees may have to Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that worked with the 2016 Donald Trump presidential campaign.

The New York Times and the UK's Guardian and Observer newspapers reported Saturday that Cambridge Analytica harvested information from 50 million Facebook accounts without users' permission and then misused it for political ads during the 2016 US presidential election. Joseph Chancellor, now a virtual reality researcher at Facebook, was a director of Global Science Research, a company that reportedly provided data to Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook said the work he did at Global Science Research is unrelated to work he's currently doing at the social networking giant. Still, it said, the company is examining the situation.

A spokesperson for Cambridge Analytica said "there was no recollection of any interactions or emails with" Chancellor.

Chancellor couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

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The data-harvesting adds a new dimension to questions about Facebook and the 2016 election, which until now has focused on meddling by Russian operatives. Those efforts are being investigated by the FBI and the US Senate. 

Facebook said Friday it had suspended Cambridge Analytica and Cambridge professor Aleksandr Kogan, who created an app called "thisisyourdigitallife," a personality quiz that was billed as "a research app used by psychologists."  Kogan is the founder and a director of Global Science Research, which worked with Cambridge Analytica to harvest the data from the quiz, the Observer reported.

Kogan's data-gathering was in compliance with Facebook's rules. But, Facebook says, Kogan then sent this data to Cambridge Analytica without user permission, something that's against the social network's rules.

Facebook says it told Cambridge Analytica to delete the data, but reports suggest the info wasn't destroyed.

Facebook's most senior executives have been trying to stress that Facebook was deceived, that Kogan shouldn't have passed on the data, and those involved shouldn't have lied about deleting all of it.

"[Kogan] lied to those users and he lied to Facebook about what he was using the data for," Facebook's chief security officer Alex Stamos wrote in a now-deleted tweet.

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