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Facebook's 50 million user breach: Trump, Brexit and Cambridge Analytica

Paul Brislen, Editor. 18 March 2018, 7:35 am

Facebook is to face the music after revealing Cambridge Analytica managed to scrape the records of more than 50 million users for the Trump administration during the US presidential elections.

Although Facebook has now closed the breach, Cambridge Analytica used the data to build a profile of millions of Americans to better target them in the lead-up to the presidential elections. Facebook apparently knew of the breach (which took place in 2014) in 2015 but did nothing to alert the public or its users to the problem until challenged by the UK publication the Observer earlier this month. 

"On Friday, four days after the Observer sought comment for this story, but more than two years after the data breach was first reported, Facebook announced that it was suspending Cambridge Analytica and Kogan from the platform, pending further information over misuse of data. Separately, Facebook's external lawyers warned the Observer on Friday it was making "false and defamatory" allegations and reserved Facebook's legal position.

Cambridge Analytica was, at the time, run by Trump advisor Steve Bannon and the organisation has been linked to the UK "Brexit" vote as well, although at this point there is no suggestion the firm used similar tactics with UK voters.

A UK parliamentary inquiry held last month directly asked Facebook's UK policy director Simon Milner whether Cambridge Analytica had Facebook data. According to the Observer, Milner said, "They may have lots of data but it will not be Facebook user data. It may be data about people who are on Facebook that they have gathered themselves, but it is not data that we have provided."

The role of publisher is one Facebook has consistently rejected, yet as the home to more than one billion users worldwide, the company is under increasing pressure to do more than simply enable the publication of content and to act as a gatekeeper to protect users from "fake news" and influence. 

Certainly, Facebook will come under more scrutiny as a result of this breach if nothing else because of the mandatory disclosure requirements under Californian law - Facebook is domiciled in California.

Whether any New Zealand users were caught up in the breach remains uncertain at this time.


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Tim Robinson 03 April 2018, 9:44 am

Hi Paul,

Both those Guardian articles linking Cambridge Analytica to Brexit have been debunked as fake news. Hopefully you use a wider variety of sources than just the Guardian; cultural marxists and anti-Brexit cheerleaders extraordinaire.

Paul Brislen 03 April 2018, 9:48 am

Hi Tim, not sure what makes you think these are "fake news". Do you have a link?

CA is widely reported to have worked closely with a number of leading anti-EU organisations and while I would like a wider range of stories to link to, the Guardian and NY Times were the two that broke the news (NY Times tends to put its content behind a paywall whereas the Guardian does not, hence linking in these pieces).

I trust you've seen the weekend's reporting that CA and a Canadian branch office are inextricably linked together and both have worked for a number of UK Brexit agencies, potentially in breach of UK law. I shall follow that with interest.

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