Mass. to investigate Facebook, analytics firm tied to Trump campaign

By Allen Cone  |  March 18, 2018 at 10:10 AM
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March 18 (UPI) -- Massachusetts' attorney general said her office launching an investigation into Facebook and a data firm, Cambridge Analytica, with ties to Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

"Massachusetts residents deserve answers immediately from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. We are launching an investigation," Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey posted on Twitter on Saturday.

The attorney general's office confirmed to the Boston Globe by email Saturday night it was opening a civil investigation and was in touch with Facebook.

On Friday, Facebook said it was suspending the data firm because it violated the social media platform's policies.

Paul Grewal, Facebook's vice president and deputy general counsel, said in in a statement University of Cambridge psychology professor, Aleksandr Kogan, had provided Facebook user data through an app to third-parties, including Cambridge Analytica. Facebook said it is a breach of the social media site's policies to protect people's information.

Facebook said approximately 270,000 people downloaded the app.

"In so doing, they gave their consent for Kogan to access information such as the city they set on their profile, or content they had liked, as well as more limited information about friends who had their privacy settings set to allow it," Grewal wrote.

Cambridge Analytica told Facebook the data was destroyed, but the social media giant said in the statement it recently received reports that was not the case.

Grewel posted an updated statement on Saturday after the company said there was a data breach.

"The claim that this is a data breach is completely false," Grewel said. "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 also suspended parent company Strategic Communication Laboratories, Kogan, and another person he shared the information with, Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies Inc.

In the summer of 2016, Trump's campaign hired Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook said it has been working to improve safety of Facebook users' data.

"In the past five years, we have made significant improvements in our ability to detect and prevent violations by app developers," Grewel said.

On Saturday, The New York Times reported the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents.

In 2014, it secured a $15 million investment from Robert Mercer, a Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen Bannon,. the executive direct or Brietbart News. The firm said its tool could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior.

Bannon went on to serve as Trump's campaign CEO and served as senior chief strategist in the White House until Aug. 18 when he was fired.

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