Facebook ‘outraged’ by misuse of data by Cambridge Analytica
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Facebook ‘outraged’ by misuse of data by Cambridge Analytica

British firm linked to Trump campaign suspends chief executive as lawmakers demand answers from social media giant over 'catastrophic' breach of user data

In this photo taken on March 25, 2015 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the F8 summit in San Francisco, California. (AFP Photo/Josh Edelson)
In this photo taken on March 25, 2015 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the F8 summit in San Francisco, California. (AFP Photo/Josh Edelson)

Facebook said Tuesday the company was “outraged” after being “deceived” over the misuse of data by political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which improperly harvested information on 50 million users.

A company statement appeared to place the blame for the incident on the British-based firm linked to US President Donald Trump, which according to Facebook violated terms of the social network by misusing data from an academic researcher.

“The entire company is outraged we were deceived. We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information and will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens,” the statement said.

It added that chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and their teams “are working around the clock to get all the facts and take the appropriate action moving forward, because they understand the seriousness of this issue.”

Later on Tuesday, Cambridge Analytica suspended its chief executive Alexander Nix after recordings of him emerged boasting about the company’s expansive role Trump’s presidential campaign, claiming it did all its research, analytics as well as digital and television campaigns.

In the undercover filming, captured by Britain’s Channel 4 News, Nix outlines the use of a secret self-destructing email system.

“There’s no evidence, there’s no paper trail, there’s nothing,” he said of the tool, which deletes emails two hours after they have been read.

Nix also slights US representatives on the House Intelligence Committee to whom he gave evidence last year, claiming its Democrats are motivated by “sour grapes” and Republicans asked few questions.

“They’re politicians, they’re not technical. They don’t understand how it works,” he was caught on camera telling an undercover reporter.

In this March 15, 2013, file photo, a Facebook employee walks past a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

In the recording Nix revealed that Cambridge Analytica employed Israeli intelligence gathering firms to aid their efforts.

“We have two projects at the moment, which involve doing deep, deep, depth research on the opposition and providing source… really damaging source material, that we can decide how to deploy in the course of the campaign,” Nix told an undercover reporter posing as a Sri Lankan businessman.

“We use some British companies, we use some Israeli companies,” he said. “From Israel, very effective in intelligence gathering.”

Announcing Nix’s suspension, Cambridge Analytica’s board said Nix would stand aside immediately pending an investigation into the various allegations.

“In the view of the Board, Mr. Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation,” the company said in a statement.

Cambridge Analytica has denied claims it harvested data from up to 50 million Facebook users as part of its work for Trump’s election campaign.

But the row has plunged Facebook into a major scandal, facing investigations on both sides of the Atlantic over its use of personal data, while its share price has been hit.

A British parliamentary committee called on Zuckerberg Tuesday to personally explain to them what happened with “this catastrophic failure of process.”

Committee chairman Damian Collins, who is leading an investigation into fake news, said officials at the firm had “consistently understated” the risk of data being taken from users without consent.

Zuckerberg has also been invited to address the European Parliament, its president Antonio Tajani said.

“Facebook needs to clarify before the representatives of 500 million Europeans that personal data is not being used to manipulate democracy,” he tweeted.

The parliament and the European Commission, the 28-nation EU executive, have already called for an urgent investigation into the scandal.

US lawmakers have also called on Zuckerberg to appear before Congress, along with the chief executives of Twitter and Google.

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