Pressure on Facebook after UK firm ‘harvests’ 50m accounts

Around 50 million Facebook accounts are thought to have been hacked. Picture: John Devlin
Around 50 million Facebook accounts are thought to have been hacked. Picture: John Devlin
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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is facing calls to appear before MPs amid allegations a British data firm “harvested” 50 million user profiles.

Whistleblower Chris Wylie, a former research director at Cambridge Analytica, said the firm obtained the mostly American Facebook profiles in 2014 while attempting to build a system which could influence voters.

Damian Collins urged Mark Zuckenberg to provide answers. Pic: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

Damian Collins urged Mark Zuckenberg to provide answers. Pic: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

The data was collected using an app called thisisyourdigitallife, which was built by Cambridge University academic Aleksandr Kogan and his company Global Science Research (GSR).

Following details published in The New York Times and The Observer, the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, was yesterday accused of “deliberately misleading” parliament when he appeared before MPs last month.

Damian Collins, chairman of the digital, culture, media and sport committee, said it was clear Mr Nix had given “false statements” to MPs.

According to Mr Wylie, Cambridge Analytica, a firm previously linked to former White House strategist Steve Bannon, used personal information taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a 
system that could profile 
individual US voters in order to target them with personalised political advertisements.

Facebook said that, despite assurances at the time this was discovered in 2015 that the data had been destroyed, the company was informed in recent days that this had not happened.

Mr Collins said Mr Nix had denied to the committee that his company had received any data from GSR, adding: “From the evidence that has been published by The Guardian and The Observer this weekend, it seems clear that he has deliberately misled the committee and parliament by giving false statements.

“We will be contacting Alexander Nix next week asking him to explain his comments and answer further questions relating to the links between GSR and Cambridge Analytica, and its associate companies.”

He added: “I will be writing to Mark Zuckerberg asking that either he, or another senior executive from the company, appear to give evidence in front of the committee as part our inquiry.

“Someone has to take responsibility for this. It’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to stop hiding behind his Facebook page.”

Facebook said Dr Kogan, Cambridge Analytica, parent company Strategic Communication Laboratories and Mr Wylie’s accounts would all be suspended “pending further information”.

In a response to its suspension, Cambridge Analytica said it fully complied with Facebook’s terms of 
services.

It added: “No data from GSR was used by Cambridge 
Analytica as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign.

“Cambridge Analytica only receives and uses data that has been obtained legally and fairly. Our robust data protection policies comply with US, international, European Union and national regulations.”