Cambridge Analytica’s data practice puts Facebook in a spot

It is very likely that the way social media giants, including Facebook, collect and use user data is going to be scrutinized under a microscope.

British privacy regulators are now zeroing in on the offices of the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica with a search warrant following reports that the company may have improperly gained access to data on 50 million Facebook users, said a report from Channel 4 television.

The development comes in the wake of U.S. and European lawmakers demanding an explanation on how the consulting firm, which worked on President Donald Trump’s election campaign, gained access to the data.

Already members of the U.S. Congress have called on Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, to testify on Facebook’s actions.

On Monday, Facebook stated it has hired forensic auditors from Stroz Friedberg to investigate and determine whether Cambridge Analytica still had the data.

“Auditors from Stroz Friedberg were on site at Cambridge Analytica’s London office this evening,” said Facebook in a statement late on Monday. “At the request of the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, which has announced it is pursuing a warrant to conduct its own on-site investigation, the Stroz Friedberg auditors stood down.”

“The lid is being opened on the black box of Facebook data practices, and the picture is not pretty,” said Frank Pasquale, a professor of law at University of Maryland who has earlier written about Silicon Valley’s usage of data.

As per a source, Alex Stamos, Facebook’s head of security, plans to retire from the company over disagreements over the company’s policies on misinformation. Incidentally, Stamos had been a strong advocate for a more robust approach to alleged Russian activity on Facebook which was aimed at manipulating the 2016 U.S. elections in which Donald Trump emerged the winner.

Facebook declined immediate comment.

Although Stamos did not deny he was leaving he tweeted “Despite the rumors, I’m still fully engaged with my work at Facebook. It’s true that my role did change.”

Significantly, despite strong denials from Cambridge Analytica that it did delete all Facebook data it obtained from a third-party application in 2014 after learning the information did not adhere to data protection rules, British broadcaster Channel 4 reported it had secretly taped interviews with senior Cambridge Analytica executives in which they boasted of their ability to sway elections in countries around the world with digital manipulation and traditional political trickery.

Cambridge Analytica has however rejected these allegations, saying the Channel 4 report “is edited and scripted to grossly misrepresent the nature of those conversations and how the company conducts its business.”

While Facebook typically sends lawyers to testify to Congres, or allows trade organizations to represent itself in front of lawmakers, Republican Senator John Kennedy has called for Zuckerberg to testify before Congress; Democratic Senator Ron Widen has also sent a letter to Zuckerberg which raises questions regarding the company’s policies for sharing user data with third parties.

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