New Facebook London office

Facebook claims a data analytics firm used by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign misused information about its users.

Getty Images

Facebook said late Friday that a data analytics firm that was affiliated with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been suspended from its service, following allegations it mishandled data obtained from hundreds of thousands of users.

The social networking giant said it learned several days ago that Cambridge Analytica, a firm that among other things helps target political messages to people online, had misused data about Facebook users. The information, such as the city they said they lived in, content they liked, and information about friends, was collected from an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” made by Aleksandr Kogan, a Cambridge University lecturer.

Facebook said that in 2015, when it first learned user’s data had been sold to other companies, such as Cambridge Analytica, it demanded that those companies certify the data had been destroyed. Cambridge Analytica is accused of having lied.

“Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted,” Paul Grewal, a company VP and general counsel, said in a statement. “We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims.”

The late-evening announcement is another example of questionable online behavior tied to the 2016 US presidential election. We’ve already learned that automated bot programs and operatives working on behalf of the Russian government appear to have manipulated Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and other social networks as part of a broad misinformation campaign that’s now being investigated by both the FBI and US Senate.

While investigators have been focused on Russia, they’ve also turned attention to Trump’s presidential campaign, which had hired Cambridge Analytica to run data operations. Late last year, The Wall Street Journal reported the firm was asked to hand over documents to the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, which is investigating election meddling.

Now, Facebook says it’s received claims the firm misused data about more than a quarter million users. “We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information,” Facebook said, adding that it now reviews apps to ensure they don’t break its policies. “We will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior.”

Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and The White House didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

iHate: CNET looks at how intolerance is taking over the internet.

Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech’s role in providing new kinds of accessibility.

US Tech Policy