UK authorities will seek a warrant to probe the computer systems of Cambridge Analytica, the company blamed for covertly siphoning the data of over 50 million Facebook users.
The warrant is in relation to a series of exposé articles in media around the world. These articles revealed how Cambridge Analytica obtained access to the personal details and lifestyle preferences of over 50 million users by using a team of academics to gather the data under the guise of scientific research [NY Times, The Guardian].
This user data was supposedly used to build user profiles and target Facebook users in the Trump and Leave Brexit campaigns.
The incident sparked worldwide outrage, mainly because it exposed a common practice among political campaigns. Facebook took most of the criticism because of its permissive app permissions model that allowed Cambridge Analytica to collect data from friends of app users, not just the app users themselves.
Facebook dispatches private investigators
The scandal broke last Friday, on March 16, and Facebook’s stock plummeted right away. Facebook said it ordered Cambridge Analytica to delete the data they gathered in 2015.
Facebook said that at the time, the data analytics company confirmed it had deleted the collected data.
Facebook also responded by deploying forensic auditors from Stroz Friedberg to Cambridge Analytica’s offices on Monday to certify that the UK data analytics firm had, indeed, deleted the data on 50 million Facebook users it collected in 2015.
UK ICO launches an official investigation
But the forensic team didn’t have time to analyze much, as, on late Monday night (UK time), the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced it was seeking an official warrant to take a look at the Cambridge Analytica servers under an official inquiry.
“On 7 March, my office issued a Demand for Access to records and data in the hands of Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica has not responded by the deadline provided; therefore, we are seeking a warrant to obtain information and access to systems and evidence related to our investigation,” said Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner.
ICO officials also requested that Facebook withdraw its investigators so not to compromise the investigation. Facebook obliged.
Undercover video shows more Cambridge Analytica problems
In addition to the previous media articles showing how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data to target US voters in the US 2016 presidential campaign, a new story broke out last night involving the embattled analytics firm.
A Channel 4 News undercover investigation shows Cambridge Analytica execs boasting about their ability to secretly influence elections using their analytics service and even using bribes, ex-spies, fake IDs and sex workers to reach their goals.
While the ICO inquiry may yield a pretty substantial fine, this latter article may spark criminal investigations in several countries around the globe.
In the meantime, Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has been sent a formal request to appear before the UK Parliament, while Facebook’s well-known and highly-respected Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos appears to have chosen to leave the company due diverging views on election meddling.