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Facebook kicked out of Cambridge Analytica offices by UK government agency

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Facebook seems to have missed its opportunity to get a handle on the Cambridge Analytica situation, having been told to stay out of its offices by the UK ICO.

Digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg was hired by Facebook yesterday ‘to conduct a comprehensive audit of Cambridge Analytica,’ according to a Facebook announcement. Apparently CA was happy to give FB full access to its servers and systems but the UK Information Commissioners Office, which is ‘sponsored by the governmental department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, apparently had other ideas.

“On 7 March, my office issued a Demand for Access to records and data in the hands of Cambridge Analytica,” said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham. “Cambridge Analytica has not responded by the deadline provided; therefore, we are seeking a warrant to obtain information and access to systems and evidence related to our investigation.

“On 19 March, Facebook announced that it will stand down its search of Cambridge Analytica’s premises at our request. Such a search would potentially compromise a regulatory investigation.”

It’s not known how long FB, via its proxies, had access to CA’s files and how much investigating it managed to do, but being kicked out by the ICO is presumably a major inconvenience. One of FB’s major priorities must be to demonstrate that it did everything possible to ensure the data reportedly passed on by Kogan to CA was destroyed, and therefore minimise its liability for the subsequent outcry. Christopher Wylie, the main source for the scoops, has made it clear that he has no intention of helping FB out on this.

For the time being the main fork of the story seems to be focusing on how shocking it is that politicians will do anything they can to win elections. UK’s Channel 4 seems to be part of the choreography designed to extract maximum mileage from this angle and secured a hidden camera scoop of CA execs boasting about all the underhand tactics they can help out with. You can see the full video report below.

Plenty of other commentators have reflected on how utterly unsurprising it is, both that FB seeks to monetise the data it is given by us as effectively as possible, and that politicians might seek to use that data to influence the electorate in their favour. But for the time being outcry is the order of the day and we can expect all manner of opportunists to exploit the opportunity to kick FB and CA while they’re down.

Meanwhile the other narrative fork concerning data privacy, is fermenting nicely in the background. FB’s VP of AR/VR has issued a public Q&A apparently designed to address some of the questions arising from the story. One of the points he makes is that it’s no longer possible to extract data about friends of people who have signed up to have their data harvested.

The NYT is reporting that FB’s Chief Information Security Officer – Alex Stamos – is leaving the company due to disagreements about how to handle this sort of thing, and FB’s shares fell 7% yesterday. There seems little doubt that this affair is going to lead to a lot more scrutiny of the social media business model and it will be interesting to see what kind of long-term remedies remain standing once the dust has settled.

 

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