Whistleblower describes how firm linked to former Trump adviser Steve sầu Bannon compiled user data to lớn target American voters


Key Trump adviser Steve Bannon Photograph: Alain Robert/Sipa/Rex/ShutterstockThe revelations provoked widespread outrage. The Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced that the state would be launching an investigation. “Residents deserve answers immediately from Facebook & Cambridge Analytica,” she said on Twitter.

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The Democratic senator Mark Warner said the harvesting of data on such a vast scale for political targeting underlined the need for Congress to improve sầu controls. He has proposed an Honest Ads Act to lớn regulate online political advertising the same way as television, radio and print. “This story is more evidence that the online political advertising market is essentially the Wild West. Whether it’s allowing Russians to purchase political ads, or extensive sầu micro-targeting based on ill-gotten user data, it’s clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to lớn be prone lớn deception and lacking in transparency,” he said.

Last month both Facebook và the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, told a parliamentary inquiry on nhái news: that the company did not have or use private Facebook data.

Simon Milner, Facebook’s UK policy director, when asked if Cambridge Analytica had Facebook data, told MPs: “They may have lots of data but it will not be Facebook user data. It may be data about people who are on Facebook that they have sầu gathered themselves, but it is not data that we have provided.”

Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive sầu, Alexander Nix, told the inquiry: “We do not work with Facebook data and we bởi vì not have sầu Facebook data.”

Wylie, a Canadian data analytics expert who worked with Cambridge Analytica & Kogan khổng lồ devise & implement the scheme, showed a dossier of evidence about the data misuse lớn the Observer which appears to raise questions about their testimony. He has passed it lớn the National Crime Agency’s cybercrime unit and the Information Commissioner’s Office. It includes emails, invoices, contracts and bank transfers that reveal more than 50 million profiles – mostly belonging khổng lồ registered US voters – were harvested from the site in one of the largest-ever breaches of Facebook data. Facebook on Friday said that it was also suspending Wylie from accessing the platkhung while it carried out its investigation, despite his role as a whistleblower.

At the time of the data breach, Wylie was a Cambridge Analytica employee, but Facebook described hyên ổn as working for Eunoia Technologies, a firm he phối up on his own after leaving his former employer in late 2014.

The evidence Wylie supplied khổng lồ UK và US authorities includes a letter from Facebook’s own lawyers sent lớn hlặng in August 2016, asking hlặng khổng lồ destroy any data he held that had been collected by GSR, the company set up by Kogan lớn harvest the profiles.

That legal letter was sent several months after the Guardian first reported the breach & days before it was officially announced that Bannon was taking over as chiến dịch manager for Trump và bringing Cambridge Analytica with hyên.

“Because this data was obtained & used without permission, & because GSR was not authorised khổng lồ nói qua or sell it to lớn you, it cannot be used legitimately in the future & must be deleted immediately,” the letter said.

Facebook did not pursue a response when the letter initially went unanswered for weeks because Wylie was travelling, nor did it follow up with forensic checks on his computers or storage, he said.

“That to me was the most astonishing thing. They waited two years & did absolutely nothing to lớn check that the data was deleted. All they asked me to lớn vì was tick a box on a size & post it bachồng.”

Paul-Olivier Dehaye, a data protection speciamenu, who spearheaded the investigative sầu efforts into lớn the tech giant, said: “Facebook has denied và denied và denied this. It has misled MPs and congressional investigators và it’s failed in its duties khổng lồ respect the law.

“It has a legal obligation to inform regulators & individuals about this data breach, và it hasn’t. It’s failed time và time again lớn be open & transparent.”

We exploited Facebook to lớn harvest millions of profiles. And built models lớn exploit that và target their inner demonsChristopher WylieA majority of American states have sầu laws requiring notification in some cases of data breach, including California, where Facebook is based.

Facebook denies that the harvesting of tens of millions of profiles by GSR and Cambridge Analytica was a data breach. It said in a statement that Kogan “gained access khổng lồ this information in a legitimate way và through the proper channels” but “did not subsequently abide by our rules” because he passed the information on khổng lồ third parties.

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Facebook said it removed the app in 2015 & required certification from everyone with copies that the data had been destroyed, although the letter lớn Wylie did not arrive sầu until the second half of năm 2016. “We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies khổng lồ protect people’s information. We will take whatever steps are required lớn see that this happens,” Paul Grewal, Facebook’s vice-president, said in a statement. The company is now investigating reports that not all data had been deleted.

Kogan, who has previously unreported link to a Russian university và took Russian grants for retìm kiếm, had a licence from Facebook to lớn collect profile data, but it was for retìm kiếm purposes only. So when he hoovered up information for the commercial venture, he was violating the company’s terms. Kogan maintains everything he did was legal, và says he had a “cthất bại working relationship” with Facebook, which had granted hyên permission for his apps.

In December năm 2016, while researching the US presidential election, Carole Cadwalladr came across data analytics company Cambridge Analytica, whose secretive manner & chequered traông xã record belied its bland, academic-sounding name. Her initial investigations uncovered the role of US billionaire Robert Mercer in the US election campaign: his strategic “war” on mainstream truyền thông & his political campaign funding, some apparently linked lớn Brexit. She found the first indications that Cambridge Analytica might have sầu used data processing methods that breached the Data Protection Act. That article prompted Britain’s Electoral Commission & the Information Commissioner’s Office lớn launch investigations whose remits include Cambridge Analytica’s use of data & its possible link lớn the EU referendum. These investigations are continuing, as is a wider ICO inquiry inlớn the use of datain politics. While chasing the details và ramifications of complex manipulation of both data & funding law, Cadwalladr came under increasing attacks, both online and professionally, from key players. The Leave sầu.EU campaign tweeted a doctored đoạn phim that showed her being violently assaulted, and the Russian embassy wrote khổng lồ the ObVPS khổng lồ complain that her reporting was a “textbook example of bad journalism”. But the growing profile of her reports also gave sầu whistleblowers confidence that they could trust her khổng lồ not only underst& their stories, but retell them clearly for a wide audience. Her network of sources và contacts grew khổng lồ include not only former employees who regretted their work but academics, lawyers & others concerned about the impact on democracy of tactics employed by Cambridge Analytica và associates. Cambridge Analytica is now the subject of special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probing of the company’s role in Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign. Investigations in the UK remain live.

The Observer has seen a contract dated 4 June năm trước, which confirms SCL, an affiliate of Cambridge Analytica, entered into a commercial arrangement with GSR, entirely premised on harvesting and processing Facebook data. Cambridge Analytica spent nearly $1m on data collection, which yielded more than 50 million individual profiles that could be matched lớn electoral rolls. It then used the kiểm tra results và Facebook data to lớn build an algorithm that could analyse individual Facebook profiles & determine personality traits linked lớn voting behaviour.

The algorithm và database together made a powerful political tool. It allowed a chiến dịch to identify possible swing voters and craft messages more likely to lớn resonate.

“The ultimate hàng hóa of the training mix is creating a ‘gold standard’ of understanding personality from Facebook profile information,” the contract specifies. It promises khổng lồ create a database of 2 million “matched” profiles, identifiable and tied lớn electoral registers, across 11 states, but with room to expand much further.

At the time, more than 50 million profiles represented around a third of active North American Facebook users, & nearly a quarter of potential US voters. Yet when asked by MPs if any of his firm’s data had come from GSR, Nix said: “We had a relationship with GSR. They did some research for us baông chồng in 2014. That retìm kiếm proved to be fruitless and so the answer is no.”

Cambridge Analytica said that its contract with GSR stipulated that Kogan should seek informed consent for data collection và it had no reason to lớn believe he would not.

GSR was “led by a seemingly reputable academic at an internationally renowned institution who made explicit contractual commitments to us regarding its legal authority lớn license data khổng lồ SCL Elections”, a company spokesman said.

SCL Elections, an affiliate, worked with Facebook over the period lớn ensure it was satisfied no terms had been “knowingly breached” and provided a signed statement that all data and derivatives had been deleted, he said. Cambridge Analytica also said none of the data was used in the 2016 presidential election.

Steve Bannon’s lawyer said he had no phản hồi because his client “knows nothing about the claims being asserted”. He added: “The first Mr Bannon heard of these reports was from media inquiries in the past few days.” He directed inquires to lớn Nix.

The ObVPS is the world"s oldest Sunday newspaper, founded in 1791. It is published by Guardian News & Media và is editorially independent.

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