Google Limits Access To Gmail Data; Alexa Aims To Capitalize On Emotions

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Data Drought

Google is cracking down on the amount of data it shares with Gmail app developers to avoid another privacy problem for the email product. Apps that don’t offer email or productivity services will be cut off from any Gmail data, while other developers will be unable to sell the data they collect or use it for targeted advertising, The Wall Street Journal reports. Those apps that can still collect data will undergo mandatory security assessments that can cost up to $75,000. The move threatens to kill off hundreds of developers reliant on Gmail data that they sell to advertisers. Google’s prophylactic measures to prevent another privacy debacle threaten to stifle innovation, said Kevin Bankston, a lawyer and director of the nonprofit Open Technology Institute. “My concern is that there is going to be an overcorrection, where we end up making it harder for users to leverage their data that is stored with the big platforms.” .

Too Close For Comfort

Amazon was granted a US patent for Alexa technology to identify emotional or physical states, like if someone is bored, excited, tired or sick. Someone coughing and sniffling, for instance, may be inferred to have a cold and get an offer for one-hour cough drop delivery. “Providing these responses could help Amazon sell Alexa owners more stuff via voice shopping and even serve targeted advertisements,” reports CNET. Keep in mind, though, that Amazon routinely secures patents that hint at future ambitions but are nowhere near reality. (Giant , anyone?) Alexa’s personalization and voice commerce adoption still has a long way to go. “Plus, especially when it comes to people’s health, customers may find a new Alexa feature that notices emotional or physical changes invasive and creepy, even if meant to be helpful.” .

Brand New

Brands like Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola underwrote content production and audience growth during the heyday of television. History is now repeating itself with direct-to-consumer startup brands rushing into online, targetable media channels. The result is an emergent class of marketers that prefer to pull the media levers and “(see) the value in owning the data and having carte blanche access to it,” rather than dumping it into a “data lake at some large agency,” writes Darren Herman of Bain Capital, on Medium. “Agencies still exist and they haven’t gone away. … But IMHO, the centralization of all media execution within a media agency now and in the coming years is and will be on a decline.” .

SnapTV

Snap will produce 12 new shows and formalize its original programming under the Snap Originals brand, the company announced on Wednesday. Snapchat’s audience growth has plateaued, but it’s been able to maintain steady viewership of its original scripted shows, which viewers watch on average three times per week, Digiday reports. By pushing into serialized scripted content and docu-series, which will be four to five minutes long and filmed vertically, Snap is hoping to drive more appointment viewing through its app. It’s also hoping to boost revenue by inserting a couple of unskippable, six-second ad units rounded out by sponsored content and product placement opportunities. .

  • – 8-K filing
  • – B&C
  • – release
  • – Stratechery
  • – eMarketer
  • – The Register
  • – Reuters
  • – ClickZ

You’re Hired!

  • – Adweek
  • – release
  • Fluent Appoints Andrea Haldeman as SVP of Sales – release

Flock Reveals Insurance Data Insights From UK Drone Pilots

It’s always nice when companies in the emerging drone industry share some of the insights they have gleaned from working with commercial pilots. These fact-finding missions tend to be a good barometer of how things are going. You can’t beat real-world data, after all. We’ve enjoyed covering Kittyhawk’s insight series, for example, which you can read more about in the links below:

Last week UK insure-tech startup Flock published findings from their own treasure trove of customer data, looking in particular at what steps commercial pilots in the UK take to keep insurance costs down while using the Flock app.

Flock’s Key Findings

In case you didn’t know, the Flock app crunches a number of different metrics to provide pilots with on-demand quotes for individual drone flights. The startup partnered with German insurance giant Allianz earlier this year and has raised over £2m from investors so far.

Flock provides insurance policies for professional and recreational pilots. The research from Flock found that, on average, Flock pilots will compare 15 different risk-dependent quotes before they purchase a policy. In practice, this means they will adjust things like the proposed date, time and flight plan of a particular mission. 

The app shows how these different metrics correspond to insurance policy prices. As you would expect, the safer the flight is assumed to be, the cheaper the policy.

This real-time risk assessment is having results. Pilots are using the data to fly safer. Flock says that the average Flight Risk Metric decreases by 4.5 from the start of the process to the end. In a matter of seconds, pilots are able to determine where and when it is safest to fly and save money. 

On-demand insurance means different things to different pilots. Some want to nab a policy on the day, but others are happy to book one in advance. Flock states that 45% of their flights are booked in advance using the company’s Flight Planning Tool.

With the tool, Flock pilots can gauge predicted risks up to ten days in advance of a mission. The result is that Flock pilots typically save 15% on each policy as a result of assessing their original plan, reducing their risk and making amendments to lower that risk.

Malek Murison is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for tech trends and innovation. He handles product reviews, major releases and keeps an eye on the enthusiast market for DroneLife.

Twitter:@malekmurison

See Also

  • Flock App Offers On-demand Drone Insurance

  • Verifly Offers Pilots On-Demand Flight Insurance

  • AIG Offering Drone Insurance

  • Drone Pilots Wanted: Why Drone Mapping is the Skill You Need

Are Republicans Becoming Extremists? The Data Suggests the Exact Opposite

Authored by: Matt Palumbo

Who are the extremists in the Trump-era? A common narrative I keep seeing is that in the past two years, Republicans have gone completely off the rails (as if the Leftists making this argument thought highly of them in the first place). How common is it to see Republicans portrayed as the party of racists, xenophobes, Islamophobes, or whatever the newest of bigotry is? To give an extremely brief sampling of this argument:

Such headlines must be somewhat humorous to readers, who’ve seen countless displays of Trump Derangement Syndrome that would indicate the exact opposite. “Extremism” is relative to the opposing Party, and to Democrats it may feel like they’re moving further and further away ideologically from Republicans, but that’s only because they’re the ones moving.

The Pew Research Center published a study in October 2017 tracking the growing ideological divide in America since the 1990s. And the main finding? That while Republicans have moved a centimeter to the right, Democrats have moved a mile to the left. To dive into the other findings:

Yes, there was a magical point in time where even a near-majority of Democrats agreed that government regulation is harmful, and a majority agreed that government spending is wasteful. Long-gone are those days.

Here’s how it looks like the shift on all ten of those issues is amalgamated. As you can see, the line representing the average Republican’s views did move slightly to the right, but it practically stood still compared to the Democrats shift leftward.

  • There is a wider partisan gap on Trump’s job approval than any other President in the past six decades. As you can see, Republican approval of Trump is in line with other Republican Presidents, so this is exclusively due to opposition from the Left.

And the result of all this? Complete alienation of those who would otherwise vote Democrat. While millennials (correctly) have a reputation for leaning left, Democrats are ruining that for themselves, particularly among white millennials. While only about a third of millennials approve of Trump (as of June 2018), millennial support for Democrats has tanked over the past two years, from 55% to 46%, according to a Reuters poll. Republican support fell slightly from 28% to 27%.

Things get more interesting when they’re broken down by race, because it proves just how much the left’s embrace of identity politics has backfired and pushed away what used to be a reliable voting block for them, the white working class.

Today, as many white millennials support the Democrats as the Republicans (each 39%). Just two years ago, Democrats still had a 14% lead over Republicans among white millennials. The trends are even more pronounced among white male millennials. Today, this group favors the Republicans over the Democrats by a staggering 11%. In 2016, Democrats led white male millennials by 12%.

In other words, these millenials don’t necessarily even like Trump, but they’ve been so alienated by the left that it hasn’t dissuaded them from joining the GOP. That’s a 25 percentage point move in two years, which is nothing short of incredible. Republicans couldn’t have put together a better PR campaign themselves.

Identity politics has been deployed by the left in the past half-decade as an attempt to divide and conquer. So far, they’ve only figured out the “divide” part.

Only six immigrants in terrorism database stopped by CBP at southern border in first half of 2018

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By Julia Ainsley

U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered only six immigrants on the U.S-Mexico border in the first half of fiscal year 2018 whose names were on a federal government list of known or suspected terrorists, according to CBP data as of May 2018 obtained by NBC News.

The low number contradicts statements by Trump administration officials, including White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who said Friday that CBP stopped nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists from crossing the southern border in fiscal year 2018.

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters on Monday the exact number, which NBC News is first to report, was classified but that she was working on making it public.

For Fact’s Sake: Thousands of terrorists aren’t crossing the border

Overall, 41 people on the Terrorist Screening Database were encountered at the southern border from Oct. 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018, but 35 of them were U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Six were classified as non-U.S. persons.

On the northern border, CBP stopped 91 people listed in the database, including 41 who were not American citizens or residents.

Border patrol agents, separate from CBP officers, stopped five immigrants from the database between legal ports of entry over the same time period, but it was unclear from the data which ones were stopped at the northern border versus the southern border.

The White House has used the 4,000 figure to make its case for building a wall on the southwest border and for closing the government until Congress funds it. They have also threatened to call a national emergency in order to get over $5 billion in funding for the wall.

Julia Ainsley

Julia Ainsley is a national security reporter for NBC News.

How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions

Details of Cambridge’s acquisition and use of Facebook data have surfaced in several accounts since the business began working on the 2016 campaign, setting off a furious debate about the merits of the firm’s so-called psychographic modeling techniques.

But the full scale of the data leak involving Americans has not been previously disclosed — and Facebook, until now, has not acknowledged it. Interviews with a half-dozen former employees and contractors, and a review of the firm’s emails and documents, have revealed that Cambridge not only relied on the private Facebook data but still possesses most or all of the trove.

Cambridge paid to acquire the personal information through an outside researcher who, Facebook says, claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.

During a week of inquiries from The Times, Facebook downplayed the scope of the leak and questioned whether any of the data still remained out of its control. But on Friday, the company posted a statement expressing alarm and promising to take action.

“This was a scam — and a fraud,” Paul Grewal, a vice president and deputy general counsel at the social network, said in a statement to The Times earlier on Friday. He added that the company was suspending Cambridge Analytica, Mr. Wylie and the researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American academic, from Facebook. “We will take whatever steps are required to see that the data in question is deleted once and for all — and take action against all offending parties,” Mr. Grewal said.

Alexander Nix, the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, and other officials had repeatedly denied obtaining or using Facebook data, most recently during a parliamentary hearing last month. But in a statement to The Times, the company acknowledged that it had acquired the data, though it blamed Mr. Kogan for violating Facebook’s rules and said it had deleted the information as soon as it learned of the problem two years ago.

In Britain, Cambridge Analytica is facing intertwined investigations by Parliament and government regulators into allegations that it performed illegal work on the “Brexit” campaign. The country has strict privacy laws, and its information commissioner announced on Saturday that she was looking into whether the Facebook data was “illegally acquired and used.”

In the United States, Mr. Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, a board member, Mr. Bannon and Mr. Nix received warnings from their lawyer that it was illegal to employ foreigners in political campaigns, according to company documents and former employees.

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The conservative donor Robert Mercer invested $15 million in Cambridge Analytica, where his daughter Rebekah is a board member.Credit Patrick McMullan, via Getty Images

Congressional investigators have questioned Mr. Nix about the company’s role in the Trump campaign. And the Justice Department’s special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has demanded the emails of Cambridge Analytica employees who worked for the Trump team as part of his investigation into Russian interference in the election.

While the substance of Mr. Mueller’s interest is a closely guarded secret, documents viewed by The Times indicate that the firm’s British affiliate claims to have worked in Russia and Ukraine. And the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, disclosed in October that Mr. Nix had reached out to him during the campaign in hopes of obtaining private emails belonging to Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The documents also raise new questions about Facebook, which is already grappling with intense criticism over the spread of Russian propaganda and fake news. The data Cambridge collected from profiles, a portion of which was viewed by The Times, included details on users’ identities, friend networks and “likes.” Only a tiny fraction of the users had agreed to release their information to a third party.

“Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do,” Mr. Grewal said. “No systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”

Still, he added, “it’s a serious abuse of our rules.”

Reading Voters’ Minds

The Bordeaux flowed freely as Mr. Nix and several colleagues sat down for dinner at the Palace Hotel in Manhattan in late 2013, Mr. Wylie recalled in an interview. They had much to celebrate.

Mr. Nix, a brash salesman, led the small elections division at SCL Group, a political and defense contractor. He had spent much of the year trying to break into the lucrative new world of political data, recruiting Mr. Wylie, then a 24-year-old political operative with ties to veterans of President Obama’s campaigns. Mr. Wylie was interested in using inherent psychological traits to affect voters’ behavior and had assembled a team of psychologists and data scientists, some of them affiliated with Cambridge University.

The group experimented abroad, including in the Caribbean and Africa, where privacy rules were lax or nonexistent and politicians employing SCL were happy to provide government-held data, former employees said.

Then a chance meeting bought Mr. Nix into contact with Mr. Bannon, the Breitbart News firebrand who would later become a Trump campaign and White House adviser, and with Mr. Mercer, one of the richest men on earth.

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Mr. Nix and his colleagues courted Mr. Mercer, who believed a sophisticated data company could make him a kingmaker in Republican politics, and his daughter Rebekah, who shared his conservative views. Mr. Bannon was intrigued by the possibility of using personality profiling to shift America’s culture and rewire its politics, recalled Mr. Wylie and other former employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had signed nondisclosure agreements. Mr. Bannon and Mr. Mercer declined to comment.

Mr. Mercer agreed to help finance a $1.5 million pilot project to poll voters and test psychographic messaging in Virginia’s gubernatorial race in November 2013, where the Republican attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, ran against Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic fund-raiser. Though Mr. Cuccinelli lost, Mr. Mercer committed to moving forward.

The Mercers wanted results quickly, and more business beckoned. In early 2014, the investor Toby Neugebauer and other wealthy conservatives were preparing to put tens of millions of dollars behind a presidential campaign for Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, work that Mr. Nix was eager to win.

When Mr. Wylie’s colleagues failed to produce a memo explaining their work to Mr. Neugebauer, Mr. Nix castigated them over email.

“ITS 2 PAGES!! 4 hours work max (or an hour each). What have you all been doing??” he wrote.

Mr. Wylie’s team had a bigger problem. Building psychographic profiles on a national scale required data the company could not gather without huge expense. Traditional analytics firms used voting records and consumer purchase histories to try to predict political beliefs and voting behavior.

But those kinds of records were useless for figuring out whether a particular voter was, say, a neurotic introvert, a religious extrovert, a fair-minded liberal or a fan of the occult. Those were among the psychological traits the firm claimed would provide a uniquely powerful means of designing political messages.

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Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American academic, built an app that helped the firm harvest Facebook data.

Mr. Wylie found a solution at Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre. Researchers there had developed a technique to map personality traits based on what people had liked on Facebook. The researchers paid users small sums to take a personality quiz and download an app, which would scrape some private information from their profiles and those of their friends, activity that Facebook permitted at the time. The approach, the scientists said, could reveal more about a person than their parents or romantic partners knew — a claim that has been disputed.

When the Psychometrics Centre declined to work with the firm, Mr. Wylie found someone who would: Dr. Kogan, who was then a psychology professor at the university and knew of the techniques. Dr. Kogan built his own app and in June 2014 began harvesting data for Cambridge Analytica. The business covered the costs — more than $800,000 — and allowed him to keep a copy for his own research, according to company emails and financial records.

All he divulged to Facebook, and to users in fine print, was that he was collecting information for academic purposes, the social network said. It did not verify his claim. Dr. Kogan declined to provide details of what happened, citing nondisclosure agreements with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, though he maintained that his program was “a very standard vanilla Facebook app.”

He ultimately provided over 50 million raw profiles to the firm, Mr. Wylie said, a number confirmed by a company email and a former colleague. Of those, roughly 30 million contained enough information, including places of residence, that the company could match users to other records and build psychographic profiles. Only about 270,000 users — those who participated in the survey — had consented to having their data harvested.

Photo
An email from Dr. Kogan to Mr. Wylie describing traits that could be predicted.

Mr. Wylie said the Facebook data was “the saving grace” that let his team deliver the models it had promised the Mercers.

“We wanted as much as we could get,” he acknowledged. “Where it came from, who said we could have it — we weren’t really asking.”

Mr. Nix tells a different story. Appearing before a parliamentary committee last month, he described Dr. Kogan’s contributions as “fruitless.”

An International Effort

Just as Dr. Kogan’s efforts were getting underway, Mr. Mercer agreed to invest $15 million in a joint venture with SCL’s elections division. The partners devised a convoluted corporate structure, forming a new American company, owned almost entirely by Mr. Mercer, with a license to the psychographics platform developed by Mr. Wylie’s team, according to company documents. Mr. Bannon, who became a board member and investor, chose the name: Cambridge Analytica.

The firm was effectively a shell. According to the documents and former employees, any contracts won by Cambridge, originally incorporated in Delaware, would be serviced by London-based SCL and overseen by Mr. Nix, a British citizen who held dual appointments at Cambridge Analytica and SCL. Most SCL employees and contractors were Canadian, like Mr. Wylie, or European.

But in July 2014, an American election lawyer advising the company, Laurence Levy, warned that the arrangement could violate laws limiting the involvement of foreign nationals in American elections.

In a memo to Mr. Bannon, Ms. Mercer and Mr. Nix, the lawyer, then at the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, warned that Mr. Nix would have to recuse himself “from substantive management” of any clients involved in United States elections. The data firm would also have to find American citizens or green card holders, Mr. Levy wrote, “to manage the work and decision making functions, relative to campaign messaging and expenditures.”

In summer and fall 2014, Cambridge Analytica dived into the American midterm elections, mobilizing SCL contractors and employees around the country. Few Americans were involved in the work, which included polling, focus groups and message development for the John Bolton Super PAC, conservative groups in Colorado and the campaign of Senator Thom Tillis, the North Carolina Republican.

Cambridge Analytica, in its statement to The Times, said that all “personnel in strategic roles were U.S. nationals or green card holders.” Mr. Nix “never had any strategic or operational role” in an American election campaign, the company said.

Whether the company’s American ventures violated election laws would depend on foreign employees’ roles in each campaign, and on whether their work counted as strategic advice under Federal Election Commission rules.

Cambridge Analytica appears to have exhibited a similar pattern in the 2016 election cycle, when the company worked for the campaigns of Mr. Cruz and then Mr. Trump. While Cambridge hired more Americans to work on the races that year, most of its data scientists were citizens of the United Kingdom or other European countries, according to two former employees.

Under the guidance of Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s digital director in 2016 and now the campaign manager for his 2020 re-election effort, Cambridge performed a variety of services, former campaign officials said. That included designing target audiences for digital ads and fund-raising appeals, modeling voter turnout, buying $5 million in television ads and determining where Mr. Trump should travel to best drum up support.

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The White House advisers Stephen K. Bannon and Kellyanne Conway with Ms. Mercer at the 2017 inauguration. The firm helped the Trump campaign target voters.

Cambridge executives have offered conflicting accounts about the use of psychographic data on the campaign. Mr. Nix has said that the firm’s profiles helped shape Mr. Trump’s strategy — statements disputed by other campaign officials — but also that Cambridge did not have enough time to comprehensively model Trump voters.

In a BBC interview last December, Mr. Nix said that the Trump efforts drew on “legacy psychographics” built for the Cruz campaign.

After the Leak

By early 2015, Mr. Wylie and more than half his original team of about a dozen people had left the company. Most were liberal-leaning, and had grown disenchanted with working on behalf of the hard-right candidates the Mercer family favored.

Cambridge Analytica, in its statement, said that Mr. Wylie had left to start a rival firm, and that it later took legal action against him to enforce intellectual property claims. It characterized Mr. Wylie and other former “contractors” as engaging in “what is clearly a malicious attempt to hurt the company.”

Near the end of that year, a report in The Guardian revealed that Cambridge Analytica was using private Facebook data on the Cruz campaign, sending Facebook scrambling. In a statement at the time, Facebook promised that it was “carefully investigating this situation” and would require any company misusing its data to destroy it.

Facebook verified the leak and — without publicly acknowledging it — sought to secure the information, efforts that continued as recently as August 2016. That month, lawyers for the social network reached out to Cambridge Analytica contractors. “This data was obtained and used without permission,” said a letter that was obtained by the Times. “It cannot be used legitimately in the future and must be deleted immediately.”

Mr. Grewal, the Facebook deputy general counsel, said in a statement that both Dr. Kogan and “SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica certified to us that they destroyed the data in question.”

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Cambridge Analytica harvested over 50 million Facebook users’ data, one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history.Credit Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

But copies of the data still remain beyond Facebook’s control. The Times viewed a set of raw data from the profiles Cambridge Analytica obtained.

While Mr. Nix has told lawmakers that the company does not have Facebook data, a former employee said that he had recently seen hundreds of gigabytes on Cambridge servers, and that the files were not encrypted.

Today, as Cambridge Analytica seeks to expand its business in the United States and overseas, Mr. Nix has mentioned some questionable practices. This January, in undercover footage filmed by Channel 4 News in Britain and viewed by The Times, he boasted of employing front companies and former spies on behalf of political clients around the world, and even suggested ways to entrap politicians in compromising situations.

All the scrutiny appears to have damaged Cambridge Analytica’s political business. No American campaigns or “super PACs” have yet reported paying the company for work in the 2018 midterms, and it is unclear whether Cambridge will be asked to join Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign.

In the meantime, Mr. Nix is seeking to take psychographics to the commercial advertising market. He has repositioned himself as a guru for the digital ad age — a “Math Man,” he puts it. In the United States last year, a former employee said, Cambridge pitched Mercedes-Benz, MetLife and the brewer AB InBev, but has not signed them on.

Matthew Rosenberg, Nicholas Confessore and Carole Cadwalladr reported from London. Gabriel J.X. Dance contributed reporting from London, and Danny Hakim from New York.

Continue reading the main story

Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach

The data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the winning Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters, in the tech giant’s biggest ever data breach, and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.

A whistleblower has revealed to the Observer how Cambridge Analytica – a company owned by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and headed at the time by Trump’s key adviser Steve Bannon – used personal information taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised political advertisements.

Christopher Wylie, who worked with an academic at Cambridge University to obtain the data, told the Observer: “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis that the entire company was built on.”

Documents seen by the Observer, and confirmed by a Facebook statement, show that by late 2015 the company had found out that information had been harvested on an unprecedented scale. However, at the time it failed to alert users and took only limited steps to recover and secure the private information of more than 50 million individuals.

The New York Times is reporting that copies of the data harvested for Cambridge Analytica could still be found online; its reporting team had viewed some of the raw data.

The data was collected through an app called thisisyourdigitallife, built by academic Aleksandr Kogan, separately from his work at Cambridge University. Through his company Global Science Research (GSR), in collaboration with Cambridge Analytica, hundreds of thousands of users were paid to take a personality test and agreed to have their data collected for academic use.

However, the app also collected the information of the test-takers’ Facebook friends, leading to the accumulation of a data pool tens of millions-strong. Facebook’s “platform policy” allowed only collection of friends data to improve user experience in the app and barred it being sold on or used for advertising.

The discovery of the unprecedented data harvesting, and the use to which it was put, raises urgent new questions about Facebook’s role in targeting voters in the US presidential election.

Profile

Cambridge Analytica: the key players

Alexander Nix, CEO

An Old Etonian with a degree from Manchester University, Nix, 42, worked as a financial analyst in Mexico and the UK before joining SCL, a strategic communications firm, in 2003. From 2007 he took over the company’s elections division, and claims to have worked on 260 campaigns globally. He set up Cambridge Analytica to work in America, with investment from Robert Mercer. 

Aleksandr Kogan, data miner

Aleksandr Kogan was born in Moldova and lived in Moscow until the age of seven, then moved with his family to the US, where he became a naturalised citizen. He studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and got his PhD at the University of Hong Kong before joining Cambridge as a lecturer in psychology and expert in social media psychometrics. He set up Global Science Research (GSR) to carry out CA’s data research. While at Cambridge he accepted a position at St Petersburg State University, and also took Russian government grants for research. He changed his name to Spectre when he married, but later reverted to Kogan.

Steve Bannon, former board member

A former investment banker turned “alt-right” media svengali, Steve Bannon was boss at website Breitbart when he met Christopher Wylie and Nix and advised Robert Mercer to invest in political data research by setting up CA. In August 2016 he became Donald Trump’s campaign CEO. Bannon encouraged the reality TV star to embrace the “populist, economic nationalist” agenda that would carry him into the White House. That earned Bannon the post of chief strategist to the president and for a while he was arguably the second most powerful man in America. By August 2017 his relationship with Trump had soured and he was out.

Robert Mercer, investor

Robert Mercer, 71, is a computer scientist and hedge fund billionaire, who used his fortune to become one of the most influential men in US politics as a top Republican donor. An AI expert, he made a fortune with quantitative trading pioneers Renaissance Technologies, then built a $60m war chest to back conservative causes by using an offshore investment vehicle to avoid US tax. 

Rebekah Mercer, investor

Rebekah Mercer has a maths degree from Stanford, and worked as a trader, but her influence comes primarily from her father’s billions. The fortysomething, the second of Mercer’s three daughters, heads up the family foundation which channels money to rightwing groups. The conservative mega‑donors backed Breitbart, Bannon and, most influentially, poured millions into Trump’s presidential campaign.

It comes only weeks after indictments of 13 Russians by special counsel Robert Mueller which stated they had used the platform to perpetrate “information warfare” against the US.

Cambridge Analytica and Facebook are one focus of an inquiry into data and politics by the British Information Commissioner’s Office. Separately, the Electoral Commission is also investigating what role Cambridge Analytica played in the EU referendum.

“We are investigating the circumstances in which Facebook data may have been illegally acquired and used,” said information commissioner Elizabeth Denham. “It’s part of our ongoing investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes which was launched to consider how political parties and campaigns, data analytics companies and social media platforms in the UK are using and analysing people’s personal information to micro-target voters.”

On Friday, four days after the Observer sought comment for this story, but more than two years after the data breach was first reported, Facebook announced that it was suspending Cambridge Analytica and Kogan from the platform, pending information over misuse of data. Facebook instructed external lawyers and warned us we were making “false and defamatory” allegations, reserving Facebook’s legal rights.

Key Trump adviser Steve Bannon Photograph: Alain Robert/Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock

Last month both Facebook and the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, told a parliamentary inquiry on fake news that the company did not have or use private Facebook data.

Simon Milner, Facebook’s UK policy director, when asked if Cambridge Analytica had Facebook data, told MPs: “They may have lots of data but it will not be Facebook user data. It may be data about people who are on Facebook that they have gathered themselves, but it is not data that we have provided.”

Nix told the same MPs: “We do not work with Facebook data and we do not have Facebook data.”

Wylie, a Canadian data analytics expert, who worked with Cambridge Analytica and Kogan to devise and implement the scheme, showed a dossier of evidence about the data misuse to the Observer which appears to raise questions about their testimony. He has passed it to the National Crime Agency’s cybercrime unit and the Information Commissioner’s Office.

It includes emails, invoices, contracts and bank transfers that reveal more than 50 million profiles – mostly belonging to registered US voters – were harvested from the site in the largest ever breach of Facebook data.

Facebook on Friday said that it was also suspending Wylie from accessing the platform while it carried out its investigation, despite his role as a whistleblower.

At the time of the data breach, Wylie was a Cambridge Analytica employee, but Facebook described him as working for Eunoia Technologies, a firm he set up on his own after leaving his former employer in late 2014.

The evidence he supplied to authorities in the UK and US includes a letter from Facebook’s own lawyers sent to him in August 2016, asking him to destroy any data he held that had been collected by GSR, the company set up by Kogan to harvest the profiles.

Cambridge Analytica interactive

That legal letter was sent several months after the Guardian first reported the breach and days before it was officially announced that Bannon was taking over as campaign manager for Trump and bringing Cambridge Analytica with him.

“Because this data was obtained and used without permission, and because GSR was not authorised to share or sell it to you, it cannot be used legitimately in the future and must be deleted immediately,” the letter said.

Facebook did not pursue a response when the letter initially went unanswered for weeks because Wylie was travelling, nor did it follow up with forensic checks on his computers or storage, he told the Observer. “That to me was the most astonishing thing. They waited two years and did absolutely nothing to check that the data was deleted. All they asked me to do was tick a box on a form and post it back.”

Paul-Olivier Dehaye, a data protection specialist, who spearheaded the investigative efforts into the tech giant, said: “Facebook has denied and denied and denied this. It has misled MPs and congressional investigators and it’s failed in its duties to respect the law.

“It has a legal obligation to inform regulators and individuals about this data breach, and it hasn’t. It’s failed time and time again to be open and transparent.”

Key players

The algorithm and database together made a powerful political tool. It allowed a campaign to identify possible swing voters and craft messages more likely to resonate.

“The ultimate product of the training set is creating a ‘gold standard’ of understanding personality from Facebook profile information,” the contract specifies. It promises to create a database of 2 million “matched” profiles, identifiable and tied to electoral registers, across 11 states, but with room to expand much further.

At the time, more than 50 million profiles represented around a third of active North American Facebook users, and nearly a quarter of potential US voters. Yet when asked by MPs if any of his firm’s data had come from GSR, Nix said: “We had a relationship with GSR. They did some research for us back in 2014. That research proved to be fruitless and so the answer is no.”

Cambridge Analytica told the Observer that its contract with GSR stipulated that Kogan should seek informed consent for data collection and it had no reason to believe he would not.

GSR was “led by a seemingly reputable academic at an internationally renowned institution who made explicit contractual commitments to us regarding its legal authority to license data to SCL Elections”, a company spokesman said.

SCL Elections, an affiliate, worked with Facebook over the period to ensure it was satisfied no terms had been “knowingly breached” and provided a signed statement that all data and derivatives had been deleted, he said. Cambridge Analytica also said none of the data was used in the 2016 presidential election.

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