Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal

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The Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal was a major political scandal in early 2018 when it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of millions of people's Facebook profiles without their consent and used it for political purposes. It has been described as a watershed moment in the public understanding of personal data and precipitated a massive fall in Facebook's stock price and calls for tighter regulation of tech companies' use of data.

The illicit harvesting of personal data by Cambridge Analytica was first reported in December 2015 by Harry Davies, a journalist for The Guardian. He reported that Cambridge Analytica was working for United States Senator Ted Cruz using data harvested from millions of people's Facebook accounts without their consent.[1] Facebook refused to comment on the story other than to say it was investigating. Further reports followed in the Swiss publication, Das Magazin, by Hannes Grasseger and Mikael Krogerus, (later translated and published by Vice), Carole Cadwalladr in The Guardian and Matthias Schwartz in The Intercept. Facebook refused to comment on the claims in any of the articles.

The scandal erupted in March 2018 with the emergence of a whistleblower, an ex-Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie. He had been an anonymous source for an article in 2017 in The Observer by Cadwalladr, headlined "The Great British Brexit Robbery". This article went viral but was disbelieved in some quarters, prompting skeptical responses in The New York Times among others. Cadwalladr worked with Wylie for a year to coax him to come forward as a whistleblower. She later brought in Channel 4 News in the UK and The New York Times due to legal threats against The Guardian and The Observer by Cambridge Analytica.

The three news organisations published simultaneously on March 17, 2018, and caused a huge public outcry. More than $100 billion was knocked off Facebook's share price in days and politicians in the US and UK demanded answers from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The scandal eventually led to him agreeing to testify in front of the United States Congress.

The scandal was significant for inciting public discussion on ethical standards for social media companies, political consulting organizations, and politicians. Consumer advocates called for greater consumer protection in online media and the right to privacy as well as curbs on misinformation and propaganda.


Aleksandr Kogan, a data scientist at Cambridge University, developed an app called "This Is Your Digital Life"[2] (sometimes stylised as "thisisyourdigitallife").[3][4] He provided the app to Cambridge Analytica.[3] Cambridge Analytica in turn arranged an informed consent process for research in which several hundred thousand Facebook users would agree to complete a survey only for academic use.[3] However, Facebook's design allowed this app not only to collect the personal information of people who agreed to take the survey, but also the personal information of all the people in those users' Facebook social network.[3] In this way Cambridge Analytica acquired data from millions of Facebook users.[3]

Characteristics of the data[edit]

The Observer and the New York Times reported that dataset has included information on 50 million Facebook users.[5] Facebook later confirmed that it actually had data on up to 87 million users, [6] with 70.6 million of those people from the United States.[7] Within the United States, Facebook estimated that California was the most affected U.S. state, with 6.7 million impacted users, followed by Texas, with 5.6 million, and Florida, with 4.3 million.[8] While Cambridge Analytica says it only collected 30 million Facebook user profiles,[9] Facebook estimated that the number was around 87 million profiles.[4]

Facebook sent a message to those users believed to be affected, saying the information likely included one's "public profile, page likes, birthday and current city".[10] Some of the app's users gave the app permission to access their News Feed, timeline, and messages.[11] The data was detailed enough for Cambridge Analytica to create psychographic profiles of the subjects of the data.[5] The data also included the locations of each person.[5] For a given political campaign, the data was detailed enough to create a profile which suggested what kind of advertisement would be most effective to persuade a particular person in a particular location for some political event.[5]

The New York Times and The Guardian reported that as of March 17, 2018, the data was available on the open Internet and available in general circulation.[5][3]

News coverage[edit]

In December 2015, The Guardian reported that Cambridge Analytica used the data at the behest of Ted Cruz.[1][12] Cambridge Analytica also assisted with President Trump's campaigns.[13]

On March 17, 2018, The Guardian and The New York Times broke the story simultaneously. The Guardian worked with Christopher Wylie, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, for more than a year before bringing in the New York Times report the story in the US.[5][3][14][15][16]

Use of the data[edit]

Various political organizations used information from the data breach to attempt to influence public opinion. Political events for which politicians paid Cambridge Analytica to use information from the data breach include the following:


Facebook director Mark Zuckerberg first apologized for the situation with Cambridge Analytica on CNN,[22] calling it an "issue", a "mistake" and a "breach of trust". Other Facebook officials argued against calling it a "data breach", arguing those who took the personality quiz originally consented to give away their information.[23] Zuckerberg pledged to make changes and reforms in Facebook policy to prevent similar breaches.[24] On March 25, 2018, Zuckerberg published a personal letter in various newspapers apologizing on behalf of Facebook.[25] In April they decided to implement the EU's General Data Protection Regulation in all areas of operation and not just the EU.[26]

Amazon said that they suspended Cambridge Analytica from using their Amazon Web Services when they learned that their service was collecting personal information.[27] The Italian banking company UniCredit stopped advertising and marketing on Facebook.[28]

The governments of India and Brazil demanded that Cambridge Analytica report how anyone used data from the breach in political campaigning,[29][30][31] and various regional governments in the United States have lawsuits in their court systems from citizens affected by the data breach.[32]

On April 25, 2018, Facebook released their first earnings report since the scandal was reported. Revenue fell since the last quarter, but this is usual as it followed the holiday season quote. The quarter revenue was the highest for a first quarter, and the second overall.[33]

In early July 2018, the United Kingdom's Information Commissioner's Office announced it intended to fine Facebook £500,000 ($663,000) over the data scandal, saying Facebook "contravened the law by failing to safeguard people's information".[34]

Testimony to Congress[edit]

During his testimony before Congress on April 10, 2018, Mark Zuckerberg said it was his personal mistake that he did not do enough to prevent Facebook from being used for harm. “That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech.” During the testimony, Mark Zuckerberg publicly apologized for the breach of private data: “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”[35]

Zuckerberg said that in 2013 researcher Aleksandr Kogan from Cambridge University created a personality quiz app, which was installed by 300,000 people. The app was then able to retrieve Facebook information, including that of the users' friends, and this was obtained by Kogan. It was not until 2015 that Zuckerberg learned that these users' information was shared by Kogan to Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica was subsequently asked to remove all the data. It was later rediscovered by The Guardian, The New York Times and Channel 4 that the data was in fact not deleted.[36]


According to the Associated Press, a company run by former officials at Cambridge Analytica, Data Propria, has been quietly working for President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election effort.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Davies, Harry (December 11, 2015). "Ted Cruz campaign using firm that harvested data on millions of unwitting Facebook users". the Guardian. Archived from the original on February 16, 2016.
  2. ^ Hern, Alex (April 10, 2018). "How to check whether Facebook shared your data with Cambridge Analytica". The Guardian. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Graham-Harrison, Emma; Cadwalladr, Carole (March 17, 2018). "Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach". the Guardian. Archived from the original on March 18, 2018.
  4. ^ a b "Facebook says 300,000 Australians may have had their data 'improperly shared'". ABC News. April 5, 2018. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Rosenberg, Matthew; Confessore, Nicholas; Cadwalladr, Carole (March 17, 2018). "How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 17, 2018.
  6. ^ Kozlowska, Hanna (April 4, 2018). "The Cambridge Analytica scandal affected 87 million people, Facebook says". Quartz. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
  7. ^ Horwitz, Josh (April 5, 2018). "Outside US, Philippines saw most Facebook user data go to Cambridge Analytica". Quartz. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
  8. ^ Nieva, Richard (June 13, 2018). "Most Facebook users hit by Cambridge Analytica scandal are Californians". CNET. Retrieved June 13, 2018.
  9. ^ "Facebook to send Cambridge Analytica data-use notices to 87 million users today". NBC News. Associated Press. April 9, 2018. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  10. ^ Coulter, Martin. "Find out if your Facebook data was shared with Cambridge Analytica". Evening Standard. Retrieved April 10, 2018.
  11. ^ "Cambridge Analytica Could Also Access Private Facebook Messages". Wired. Retrieved April 10, 2018.
  12. ^ Has anyone called this the first report? Bring info to talk page
  13. ^ Chaykowski, Kathleen (March 21, 2018). "Mark Zuckerberg Addresses 'Breach Of Trust' In Facebook User Data Crisis". Forbes. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  14. ^ Grind, Kirsten (March 22, 2018). "Next Worry for Facebook: Disenchanted Users". wsj.com. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  15. ^ Crespi, Giorgia (March 24, 2018). "E' iniziata la grande fuga da Zuckerberg". milanofinanza.it. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  16. ^ "E' Kolejny problem Facebooka". wyborcza.pl. April 23, 2018. Retrieved April 23, 2018.
  17. ^ Cadwalladr, Carole; Townsend, Mark (March 24, 2018). "Revealed: the ties that bind Vote Leave's data firm to controversial Cambridge Analytica". the Guardian. Archived from the original on March 25, 2018.
  18. ^ Staff, Forbes (March 30, 2018). "Cambridge Analytica trabajó con el PRI: Channel 4 News • Forbes México". Forbes.com.mx. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  19. ^ Murillo, Javier. "Cambridge Analytica, sigan la ruta del dinero". Elfinanciero.com.mx. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  20. ^ Peinado, Fernando; Palomo, Elvira; Galán, Javier (March 22, 2018). "The distorted online networks of Mexico's election campaign". Elpais.com. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  21. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/24/world/americas/mexico-election-cambridge-analytica.html
  22. ^ Deagon, Brian (March 23, 2018). "Facebook Stock Troubles Didn't Start With Data Scandal". Investors Business Daily. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  23. ^ Glum, Julia (March 22, 2018). "Was Your Facebook Data Actually 'Breached'? Depends On Who You Ask". Money. Archived from the original on March 25, 2018. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  24. ^ Lee, Dave (March 22, 2018). "Facebook's Zuckerberg speaks out over Cambridge Analytica 'breach'". BBC News. Archived from the original on March 26, 2018. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  25. ^ McKenzie, Sheena (March 25, 2018). "Facebook's Zuckerberg says sorry in full-page newspaper ads". CNN. Archived from the original on March 26, 2018.
  26. ^ Rahman, Mishaal (April 4, 2018). "Amidst data scandal, Facebook will voluntarily enforce EU's new privacy rules "everywhere"". xda-developers. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
  27. ^ Schwartz, Mattathias (March 30, 2017). "Facebook Failed to Protect 30 Million Users From Having Their Data Harvested by Trump Campaign Affiliate". The Intercept. Archived from the original on March 26, 2018.
  28. ^ "UniCredit has stopped using Facebook for advertising: CEO". Reuters. August 7, 2018. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  29. ^ Editorial, Reuters (March 21, 2018). "Brazil prosecutors open investigation into Cambridge Analytica". Reuters. Archived from the original on March 26, 2018.
  30. ^ Biller, David (March 21, 2018). "Cambridge Analytica's Brazil Partner Asks to Suspend Deal". Bloomberg.com. Archived from the original on March 26, 2018.
  31. ^ Deschamps, Marion (March 22, 2018). "Cambridge Analytica in Latin America: What We Know So far". Telesur. Archived from the original on March 27, 2018.
  32. ^ Farivar, Cyrus (March 25, 2018). "Facebook accused of massive fraud in new lawsuit filed by Cook County". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on March 26, 2018.
  33. ^ Kozlowska, Hanna. "Facebook steamrolled over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, posting another record quarter". Quartz. Retrieved April 26, 2018.
  34. ^ "Facebook Faces First Fine Over Cambridge Analytica Scandal". Time. Associated Press. July 11, 2018. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  35. ^ "Facebook, Social Media Privacy, and the Use and Abuse of Data | United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary". judiciary.senate.gov. Retrieved April 14, 2018.
  36. ^ "Mark Zuckerberg's Written Testimony to the House of Representatives" (PDF).
  37. ^ Jeff Horwitz (June 15, 2018). "AP: Trump 2020 working with ex-Cambridge Analytica staffers". Associated Press. Retrieved June 18, 2018 – via WashingtonPost.com.

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