Facebook announced on Monday Trump-linked data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica has agreed to a forensic audit to prove it deleted the data of 50 million users.
“This is part of a comprehensive internal and external review that we are conducting to determine the accuracy of the claims that the Facebook data in question still exists,” Facebook announced in a Monday blog post. “If this data still exists, it would be a grave violation of Facebook’s policies and an unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments these groups made.”
Cambridge Analytica said it deleted the information when Facebook asked it to do so in 2015 — a claim that has been called into question after reports from the New York Times and The Guardian this past weekend. The analytics firm paid University of Cambridge Professor Aleksandr Kogan for data on the personality makeup of millions of Facebook users leading up to the 2014 midterm elections.
Kogan paid about 270,000 people to use an app built on Facebook’s tools, allowing him to pull data on “liked” pages and look at the profiles of users’ friends. This mountain of data swelled to about 50 million users. Grabbing the data was kosher, but selling it to Cambridge Analytica violated Facebook’s terms of service. (Facebook has since banned app developers from pulling data unless users explicitly opt-in.) The use of Facebook’s data to target potential voters “underpinned” Cambridge Analytica’s eventual work for the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to the Times.
Facebook said it hired Stroz Friedberg, a digital forensics firm, to lead the audit. The company also said Kogan has agreed to an audit, but that Christopher Wylie, another data scientist who worked on the project, had not agreed yet. Cambridge Analytica, along with Kogan and Wylie, had their accounts suspended by Facebook this past weekend.
“We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims,” Facebook added. “We remain committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information.”
In addition, the New York Times reported that Facebook’s chief security officer Alex Stamos plans to leave his position by August. Stamos himself shut down the reports, though ackowledging that his role at the company recently changed.
Despite the rumors, I'm still fully engaged with my work at Facebook. It's true that my role did change. I'm currently spending more time exploring emerging security risks and working on election security.
— Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) March 19, 2018