Facebook, online political advertising under fire following Cambridge Analytica data breach

Facebook suspends Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group accounts

Facebook and its data practices have been attacked by numerous government officials following revelations that Cambridge Analytica clandestinely gained access to the information of 50 million users.

Cambridge Analyica, which has now been suspended from Facebook, stands accused of fraudulently obtaining Facebook user data and then using it to run election ads on US president Donald Trump’s behalf.

Facebook's vice president and deputy general counsel, Paul Grewal, admitted in a post yesterday (17 March) that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge violated Facebook's platform policies by passing data from an app called 'This Is Your Digital Life' to Cambridge Analytica.

The information was subsequently used to form targeted advertising promoting Donald Trump's presidential bid.

Wild West

Now, Facebook critics have called for both regulation of digital social platforms such as Facebook, and an investigation into the data practices of Mark Zuckerberg's company.

US senator Amy Klobuchar tweeted: "This is a major breach that must be investigated. It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves. I've called for more transparency and accountability for online political ads.

"They say 'trust us'. Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify before Senate Judiciary."

Another US senator, Mark Warner, said in a statement: "This 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 micro-targeting based on ill-gotten user data, it's clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency.

"This is another strong indication of the need for Congress ... to bring transparency and accountability to online political advertisements."

'Deleted all data'

Facebook has now introduced a process whereby all apps requesting detailed user information will go through Facebook's App Review process, which requires developers to justify the data they’re looking to collect and how they’re going to use it, before they’re allowed to ask people for it.

Cambridge Analytics has denied the allegations. In a statement it said: "When it subsequently became clear that the data had not been obtained by GSR [Global Science Research, parent of This Is Your Digital Life] in line with Facebook’s terms of service, Cambridge Analytica deleted all data received from GSR.

"We worked with Facebook over this period to ensure that they were satisfied that we had not knowingly breached any of Facebook’s terms of service and also provided a signed statement to confirm that all Facebook data and their derivatives had been deleted.

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

Words by Katie Deighton and Taruka Srivastav

The Drum is hosting the Political Advertising Regulation Debate next Wednesday (21 March) at The Drum & The Sun Arms. Register for the event here.

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