Healey To Investigate Cambridge Data Firm Used By Trump Campaign; Former Obama Campaign Staffer Says Facebook “Was On Our Side”

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2018/03/19/healey-to-investigate-cambridge-data-firm-used-by-trump-campaign-former-obama-campaign-staffer-says-facebook-was-on-our-side/


Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has announced her office is investigating the Cambridge-based data firm that President Donald Trump’s campaign used to obtain information on more than 50 million Facebook users, but a former official who worked during President Barack Obama’s successful 2008 and 2012 campaigns says the Democrats effectively employed the same strategy.

Healey on Saturday re-tweeted a New York Times report outlining how Cambridge Analytica, with the help of a wealthy GOP donor and the direction of former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, “harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission.”

The Times report claims the strategy constituted “one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history” and “allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate.”

Healey, in her tweet, announced her office has launched an investigation and added that “Massachusetts residents deserve answers immediately from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.”

An Obama campaign staffer has claimed, however, that Facebook has been turning a blind eye to this type of data-harvesting behavior since at least 2012.

Carol Davidson, who served as director for the organization Obama for America’s Integration and Media Analytics, took to social media to point out that not only did the outfit conduct a similar exercise in data mining, but also that Facebook gave the organization the green light to do so:

“Facebook was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn’t stop us once they realized that was what we were doing,” Davidson wrote on Twitter.

A 2012 report published by the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine, titled “Meet Obama’s Digital Gurus,” details at-length the steps the Obama team took to “build the 21st century campaign.”

The report cites Michael Slaby, who at the time served as chief integration and innovation officer for the Obama for America digital endeavor. Slaby, according to Mother Jones, had a “big idea” that involved “micro-listening, i.e., studying the habits and traits of individual voters to understand how to target them.”

Healey, meanwhile, is reportedly looking to determine whether the data mining job conducted by Cambridge Analytica on behalf of Trump violated Facebook’s own policies. The Times report claims that Cambridge Analytica dug for users’ “private data.” Facebook later released a statement announcing it had barred Cambridge Analytic from its website and had suspended its accounts.

Facebook, however, claimed in a prepared statement that reports of a “data breach” are false, as a software developer involved in the data harvesting project named Aleksandr Kogan “requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent.”

“People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked,” Facebook said.

Kogan’s app, titled ‘thisisyourdigitallife,’ billed itself as a research app for psychologists. Kogan himself approached Facebook with his proposal and cited his background as a University of Cambridge psychology professor. According to Facebook, Kogan erred when he passed along the information to a third-party — Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook claims that “approximately 270,000 people downloaded the app.” According to Facebook, the data obtained by Kogan in 2015 was originally reported to have been destroyed, but instead has apparently been preserved.

In a statement provided to the Times, Facebook’s vice president and deputy general counsel Paul Grewal called the actions of Kogan and Cambridge Analytica “a scam and a fraud.”

That isn’t how the company characterized such information gathering when it was done on behalf of Obama.

According to Davidson, the Obama data-mining exercise was known as Project Targus.

“They [Facebook] came to our office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side,” Davidson wrote in a tweet. “I worked on all of the data integration projects at OFA. This was the only one that felt creepy, even though we played by the rules, and didn’t do anything I felt was ugly, with the data.”

Healey’s announcement marks the latest instance in which she has vowed to use her authority to take on a Trump-related issue.

Cambridge Analytica has denied any wrongdoing. In a recent tweet the company cited a Forbes report purportedly showing how the company has been accused of doing by Facebook “is in fact what academic researchers, commercial enterprises, governments and even the social media companies themselves do every day with the data entrusted to them by a quarter of the earth’s population.”

Cambridge Analytica claimed in its tweet that the company “is not alone in using data from social media sites to extract user information.”

Cambridge Analytica has also rebuffed accusations that it has not deleted the data.

“We refute these mischaracterizations and false allegations, and we are responding — watch our Twitter feed for more,” the company added.