Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica files: the story so far

What is the company accused of, how is Facebook involved and what is the Brexit link?

By: The Guardian

What are the allegations against Cambridge Analytica?
The data analytics firm used personal information harvested from more than 50 million Facebook profiles without permission to build a system that could target US voters with personalised political advertisements based on their psychological profile, according to Christopher Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica contractor who helped build the algorithm. Employees of Cambridge Analytica, including the suspended CEO Alexander Nix, were also filmed boasting of using manufactured sex scandals, fake news and dirty tricks to swing elections around the world.

How is Facebook involved in the scandal?
The social media company has received a number of warnings about its data security policies in recent years and had known about the Cambridge Analytica data breach since 2015, but only suspended the firm and the Cambridge university researcher who harvested user data from Facebook earlier this month. A former Facebook manager has warned that hundreds of millions of users are likely to have had their private information used by private companies in the same way. On Sunday, Facebook ran adverts in several major UK and US newspapers apologising for the data breach, and said it was investigating other applications that had access to large amounts of user data.

What has been the reaction to the scandal?
Investigators from Britain’s data watchdog raided Cambridge Analytica’s London offices over Friday night, and the main consumer protection body in the US is reported to have opened an investigation into whether Facebook has violated privacy agreements. Billions of dollars have been wiped off Facebook’s stock market valuation this week as a growing #DeleteFacebook movement and regulatory fears have spooked investors.

What is the Brexit link?
During the Brexit referendum, a digital services firm linked to Cambridge Analytica received a £625,000 payment from a pro-Brexit campaign organisation which had been given the money by Vote Leave, potentially violating referendum spending rules. Shahmir Sanni, a pro-Brexit whistleblower, told the Observer newspaper that he had passed evidence supporting his claims to the police and the Electoral Commission.

Separately, around £3.4m was spent by different Brexit Leave campaigns with Canadian data firm AggregateIQ during the run up to the EU referendum, including £2.7m by the official Vote Leave campaign (40% of their total budget). Christopher Wylie says he played a role in setting up AIQ in 2013, around same time he worked for Cambridge Analytica. AIQ have say they have never entered into a contract with Cambridge Analytica and had no communications with them during the referendum campaign.

Why is the Electoral Commission involved?
British electoral law forbids co-ordination between different campaign groups, which must all comply with strict spending limits. If they plan tactics or co-ordinate together, the organisations must share a cap on spending.

Sanni has alleged that key figures in the Vote Leave campaign may have violated referendum spending rules and then attempted to destroy evidence. According to him, the £625,000 donation Vote Leave made to a pro-Brexit youth campaign group, who then spent the money on digital campaigning services with a Cambridge Analytica-linked firm, was not a genuine donation. Sanni also alleges that when the commission opened an investigation into Vote Leave last March, key Vote Leave figures tried to hide the possible co-ordination by removing themselves from the Google drive both campaign groups shared.

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