San Francisco: Lawmakers and regulators across the US and Europe are calling for investigations into social media giant Facebook amid revelations that personal data from 50 million of its users were secretly harvested by a data analytics firm that worked on the Trump campaign.
However, Facebook said today the company was outraged after being deceived over the misuse of data by political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which improperly harvested information on 50 million users.
A company statement appeared to place the blame for the incident on the British-based firm linked to President Donald Trump, which according to Facebook violated terms of the social network by misusing data from an academic researcher.
The public outcry over the data breach, which includes demands that Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testify before Congress, could spark new calls for the government to monitor political advertising on the social media network.
In a statement, Facebook said that chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and their teams “are working around the clock to get all the facts and take the appropriate action moving forward.
Meanwhile, Facebook’s shares are in free fall, with the company losing almost $40 billion in market value since Friday and wiping away billions of dollars of Zuckerberg’s personal wealth.
Top UK regulator Elizabeth Denham has already announced an investigation into the legality of the Facebook data breach.
The political and financial blows to the company began after the New York Times and the UK’s Observer published reports over the weekend showing that Cambridge Analytica secretly obtained the personal data of millions of Facebook users.
That privacy breach may have had significant political effects. The Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in June 2016. It’s unclear at the moment if Cambridge Analytica made direct use of the secretly harvested data for Trump’s campaign, but according to the Times, the data was used for “developing techniques that underpinned its work” on the campaign.
Facebook failed to crack down on Cambridge Analytica’s data mining. It specializes in what’s called “psychographic” profiling, meaning it uses data collected online to create personality profiles for voters. It then takes that information and targets individuals with specifically tailored political advertising.
Facebook found out about Cambridge Analytica’s breach in 2015, but it didn’t notify users who had their data taken without their permission. And it didn’t take particularly strong measures to correct the leak, which is one of the largest in the company’s history.
Facebook sent a letter to Cambridge Analytica in August 2016 asking them to destroy any data they held that they had harvested from Facebook without permission, but Facebook never followed up to confirm that Cambridge had actually done so with investigations.
Two former Federal Trade Commission employees have told the Washington Post that Facebook could be fined for billions of dollars for violating a 2011 agreement it formed with the FTC over user privacy.
In the US, the public backlash against Facebook could provide a boost for bipartisan legislation, which calls for the government to regulate online political advertising the same way it does television, radio, and print advertising. It looks like Facebook founder Zuckerberg is in for a tough time.