LONDON (AP) — Britain’s information commissioner says she is using all her legal powers to investigate the handling of millions of people’s personal Facebook data by the social media giant and by political campaign consultants Cambridge Analytica.
Commissioner Elizabeth Denham is pursuing a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s servers. The company allegedly used data mined from Facebook to help Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election.
She told BBC on Tuesday she is also investigating Facebook and has asked the company not to pursue its own audit of Cambridge Analytica’s data use. She says Facebook has agreed.
“Our advice to Facebook is to back away and let us go in and do our work,” she said.
Denham said the prime allegation against Cambridge Analytica is that it acquired personal data in an unauthorized way, adding that the data provisions act requires platforms like Facebook to have strong safeguards against misuse of data.
Chris Wylie, who once worked for Cambridge Analytica, was quoted as saying the company used the data to build psychological profiles so voters could be targeted with ads and stories.
Denham launched her investigation after weekend reports that Cambridge Analytica improperly used information from more than 50 million Facebook accounts. Facebook has suspended the company from the social network.
Britain’s Channel 4 used an undercover investigation to record Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, saying that the company could use unorthodox methods to wage successful political campaigns for clients.
He said the company could “send some girls” around to a rival candidate’s house, suggesting that girls from Ukraine are beautiful and effective in this role.
He also said the company could “offer a large amount of money” to a rival candidate and have the whole exchange recorded so it could be posted on the internet to show that the candidate was corrupt.
Nix says in a statement on the company’s website that he deeply regrets his role in the meeting and has apologized to staff.
“I am aware how this looks, but it is simply not the case,” he said. “I must emphatically state that Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called ‘honeytraps’, and nor does it use untrue material for any purposed.”
The data harvesting used by Cambridge Analytica has also triggered calls for further investigation from the European Union, as well as federal and state officials in the United States.
The crisis roiling Facebook could deepen further Tuesday with more revelations likely about how its user data came to be harvested for political purposes and investors continuing to take fright at the risk to its business model.
Revelations by the New York Times and UK media claiming that data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica tried to influence how Americans voted using information improperly gleaned from 50 million Facebook users has already seriously hurt its brand.
An undercover TV report Monday suggesting that Cambridge Analytica was prepared to consider using bribes and entrapment to create content it could then post to the internet to sway voters is piling on the pressure.
Cambridge Analytica says it does not engage in bribery or entrapment and says the Channel 4 News report was a misrepresentation of how the company conducts its business.
Facebook says the user data in question was initially properly gathered by a psychology professor, who then passed it to Cambridge Analytica. That breached Facebook’s rules.
Facebook (FB) shares, which suffered their biggest one-day fall in four years on Monday wiping $37 billion off the company’s value, are poised to fall again Tuesday. They were down 1% in premarket trading.
“What matters for this stock, at this time, are the headlines,” wrote analysts at Macquarie Capital.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t commented publicly since the scandal broke late on Friday.
But the questions of data privacy thrown up by the scandal strike at the heart of Facebook’s business, which relies on more than 1.4 billion users engaging with the platform each day.
Every time they do, they share a bit of information about themselves: what they like, who their friends are, what they want to watch. That data is the product Facebook sells to advertisers who want to target specific customers.
If the Cambridge Analytica scandal leads to tougher data protection regulations — as some policymakers are demanding — or puts people off sharing as much about themselves online, that could hurt Facebook’s revenue, and that of all social media platforms. (Other tech stocks suffered in Monday’s sell-off too.) [btnsx id=”5955″]
Cambridge Analytica caught in undercover sting boasting about entrapping politicians