Facebook Embroiled In New Data Scandal, Prompting Fresh Calls For Regulation

Facebook is facing fresh calls for the government to regulate the company after the news that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, was able to access data on 50 million users beginning in 2014. Cambridge Analytica was then employed by the Trump campaign, Reuters reported.

Late last week in a blog post, Facebook revealed the incident hours ahead of the release of media reports that Cambridge Analytica, which is conservative leaning and worked for the Trump 2016 presidential campaign, got access to data and did not delete the information. The revelation, which is yet another hit to the social media giant’s reputation, drew the outcry of politicians and consumer advocacy groups. Facebook has faced widespread criticism that it did nothing to prevent fake news and offensive ads, many from Russians, from permeating its social media platform, impacting the 2016 election.  “It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves,” Democratic U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar tweeted after Facebook’s latest revelation, according to Reuters. “They say ‘trust us.’ Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify before Senate Judiciary.”

According to Facebook, Cambridge psychology professor Aleksandr Kogan gave data on Facebook users he acquired through an app to Cambridge Analytica and other third parties. Cambridge Analytica told Facebook the data was deleted, but Facebook contends it lied and broke the rules of the platform. That defense didn’t do much to quell the blame being tossed the social media giant’s way. “The lid is being opened on the black box of Facebook’s data practices, and the picture is not pretty,” said Frank Pasquale, a University of Maryland law professor, in the Reuters report. He said Facebook’s claims that its data wasn’t stolen because users gave permission is an attempt to try to distract from the fact that the data was used in a way that wasn’t expected by the users.  A spokesperson for Cambridge Analytica denied to CNN it was in violation of the Facebook terms and said it is talking to the social network operator.

Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner also weighed in, saying the incident increases the need for new regulations. “Whether it’s allowing Russians to purchase political ads, or extensive micro-targeting based on ill-gotten user data, it’s clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency,” he said. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey also reacted to the news, saying over the weekend that her office is launching an inquiry into how Facebook data is used. She wants to know what policies, if any, were violated, what the data was used for and if there were any legal implications and ramifications, reported CNN. “Massachusetts residents deserve answers immediately from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. We are launching an investigation,” Healey tweeted.

The inquiries aren’t reserved to the U.S. TechCrunch reported Sunday (March 18) that MP Damian Collins, the conservative and chair of a parliamentary committee looking into fake news accused Facebook and Cambridge Analytica of impeding the investigation. TechCrunch reported Collins indicated the two could face additional questions.