An investigation by The Observer of London and the The New York Times claims a firm outsourced by Donald Trump mined Facebook data from roughly 50 million users without permission to influence the 2016 Election. The report directly quotes whistleblower and former Cambridge Analytica firm employee Christopher Wylie while outlining out how the alleged hack was carried out in intricate detail.
“The data was collected through an app called thisisyourdigitallife, built by academic Aleksandr Kogan, separately from his work at Cambridge University,” wrote Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison of The Observer. “Through his company Global Science Research (GSR), in collaboration with Cambridge Analytica, hundreds of thousands of users were paid to take a personality test and agreed to have their data collected for academic use.”
As the report went to press Saturday, Facebook announced Cambridge Analytica and Strategic Communication Laboratories were both suspended. Through the same press release announcing the suspensions, Facebook’s VP and General Counsel, Paul Grewal, wrote, “The claim that this is a data breach is completely false.”
Per The Guardian, noted white nationalist troll and former Trump advisor Steve Bannon held a position of Vice President at Cambridge Analytica during the alleged hack. The data mining was reportedly done by taking information from the fake personality test app and using it “to build a system that could profile individual voters, in order to target them with personalized political advertisements.”
“We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles,” Wylie told The Guardian. “And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.”
Yet another layer is added to the story in the form of Kogan receiving grants from the Russian government to research Facebook users’ emotional states. That would be the same Russian government the FBI concluded helped Trump win the 2016 Election. The report essentially links three pillars of the Trump administration: alleged Russian tampering in the 2016 Election, “fake news” perpetuated via social media, and the manipulation of voters willing to be whipped into a frenzy by a Nazi-sympathizer.
In the meantime, Wylie claims Facebook has suspended his account and the Massachusetts Attorney General is preparing to launch a probe into how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook’s data.