28 Mar 2018

Revealed: Cambridge Analytica data on thousands of Facebook users still not deleted

Facebook said it took steps to ensure harvested campaign data had been “destroyed”. But Channel 4 News has now discovered that data on thousands of people in Colorado is still circulating – and Channel 4 News has been to speak to those whose privacy was breached.

Cambridge Analytica’s US campaign data, which was harvested from Facebook, is still circulating – despite assurances it has been deleted.

Channel 4 News has seen part of the information extrapolated from 50 million people’s Facebook profiles and activity.

The cache of campaign data from a Cambridge Analytica source, details 136,000 individuals in the US state of Colorado, along with each person’s personality and psychological profile.

The data, which dates from 2014, was used by Cambridge Analytica to target specific messages at residents who would be most susceptible to them.

As the harvesting scandal grew last week, Cambridge Analytica insisted all Facebook data it held, and any information they had derived using the Facebook data, “had been deleted”.

Facebook also said it took steps to ensure all information related to harvested profiles was “destroyed”.

But the Colorado dataset, along with similar data for Oregon, suggests copies of the Facebook-derived data still exists, and raises questions about who still has them.

The data is also known to have been passed around using generic, non-corporate email systems, outside of the servers of Cambridge Analytica, and linked company SCL.

Now, more than a week after the revelations that disgraced Cambridge Analytica and ripped through Facebook’s reputation, Channel 4 News has spoken directly to those whose privacy was breached.

And residents in the middle-class suburb of Arvada, in the swing state of Colorado, were told: “If we [Channel 4 News] can get a copy of it, users would be naïve to assume that someone else can’t as well.”

Janice, a nurse whose data is included in the cache, said: “It’s a manipulation of our society by people who don’t really care about our society. They care about their business. They care about their bottom line and they aren’t here for all of us, other than they want to manipulate all of us because we’re either a voter or a consumer. And that’s how they look at me, they don’t look at how safe I am, or how good my schools are.”

On Sunday Mark Zuckerberg issued full-page newspaper adverts apologising for the Facebook data scandal. But when asked how she felt about his apology, Janice told Channel 4 News:

“He didn’t do it until people deleted their profiles and started closing their accounts. He didn’t care about America until it was going to hit his bottom line or he thought the trend might go the wrong way. And so, in that, it just made me more disgusted with him.”

Debra, a local resident said: “It’s personal information, and just to have strangers be able to make an assessment about who we are and what our views are… whether it’s accurate or inaccurate…  It’s unnerving to think that someone has and is keeping track of that information. I’m questioning if I scroll down something and click on it, to look at it more what’s involved in the post, then that’s them gathering data as well. It makes me really hesitant to even want to engage to that degree.”

Householder Barbara was asked: “Does it worry you that somehow people have extracted this information about you from your online profile?”

She said: “It doesn’t worry me … I just figured they were.”

The system of Facebook personality profiles was devised by Cambridge Analytica in line with ground-breaking research by scientists at Cambridge University that built personality profiles from people’s social media.

Sources have told Channel 4 News the Cambridge Analytica data was used by the Republicans in Colorado to help target voters.

The Cambridge Analytica data was allegedly also used by President Trump’s incoming national security adviser John Bolton, according to reports in the New York Times. Mr Bolton’s political action committee, known as The John Bolton Super PAC, first hired Cambridge in August 2014, months after the political data firm was founded and while it was still harvesting the Facebook data.

Since revelations were first broadcast on 17 March 2018, Channel 4 News has asked Mr Zuckerberg repeatedly for an interview. The Facebook CEO has repeatedly declined.

Responding to the latest revelations, Facebook’s Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, Paul Grewal, said: “What happened with Cambridge Analytica represents a breach of trust for which we are very sorry. It is now clear to us that there’s more that we could have done, and as Mark Zuckerberg said, we are working hard to tackle past abuse and are committed to letting people know if their data was inappropriately accessed or misused.

“In 2015, we learned that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan lied to us and violated our policy by passing data from an app to SCL/Cambridge Analytica.

“When we learned of this violation, we removed his app from Facebook and demanded certifications from Kogan and all parties he had given data to that the information had been destroyed. Cambridge Analytica certified to us that they had destroyed the data in question in 2015.

“Two weeks ago, we received reports from media, including Channel 4, that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted. Cambridge Analytica have confirmed publicly that they no longer have the data, others are challenging this, we are determined to find out the facts.

“The ICO has launched an investigation into Cambridge Analytica and we are assisting with this. We want to assure people that we have suspended Cambridge Analytica from Facebook.” – Paul Grewal, VP & Deputy General Counsel.”

A Cambridge Analytica spokesperson said: “We have never passed any data from GSR to an external party. After Facebook contacted us in December 2015 we deleted all GSR data and took appropriate steps to ensure that any copies of the data were deleted. This includes our lawyers taking action in late 2014 against a number of former staff members who had stolen data and intellectual property from the company. These former staff members each signed an undertaking promising that they had deleted all such material. It is untrue that we failed to take appropriate measures to ensure that GSR data were deleted.”

You can read Channel 4 News’s full coverage of the Cambridge Analytica scandal here.