The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI are investigating Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct political data firm embroiled in a scandal over its handling of Facebook Inc user information, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
Prosecutors have sought to question former Cambridge Analytica employees and banks that handled its business, the newspaper said, citing an American official and others familiar with the inquiry.
Cambridge Analytica said earlier this month it was shutting down after losing clients and facing mounting legal fees resulting from reports the company harvested personal data about millions of Facebook users beginning in 2014.
Allegations of the improper use of data for 87 million Facebook users by Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by President Donald Trump’s 2016 U.S. election campaign, have prompted multiple investigations in the United States and Europe.
The investigation by the Justice Department and FBI appears to focus on the company’s financial dealings and how it acquired and used personal data pulled from Facebook and other sources, the Times said.
Investigators have contacted Facebook, according to the newspaper.
The FBI, the Justice Department and Facebook declined to comment to Reuters.
The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI are investigating Cambridge Analytica (whose London offices are seen above), a now-defunct political data firm embroiled in a scandal over its handling of Facebook Inc user information, the New York Times reported on Tuesday
Christopher Wylie, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, confirmed to the Times that federal investigators interviewed him
Former officials with Cambridge Analytica was not immediately available to comment.
Christopher Wylie, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, confirmed to the Times that federal investigators interviewed him.
‘I can confirm that I’ve been contacted by the FBI and the Department of Justice, and answered preliminary questions,’ Wylie told the Times.
‘We plan to meet again to provide substantive answers to the investigators.’
Wylie was one of the whistleblowers who revealed the extent to which the company used data about Facebook users to craft disinformation campaigns related to the Brexit referendum as well as the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.
Cambridge Analytica was created around 2013, initially with a focus on U.S. elections, with $15 million in backing from billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer and a name chosen by future Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon, the New York Times has reported.
Bannon left the White House on August 2017.
Facebook has suspended around 200 apps as part of its investigation into misuse of personal data on the social network.
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg promised an audit of apps that may have accessed ‘large amounts of data’ on the site.
The investigation is ongoing but the site has confirmed hundreds of apps have so far been suspended, pending further analysis of their behaviour.
The social network is auditing apps and their data use following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and said 200 have been suspended pending a thorough investigation.
HAVE YOU BEEN USING A ROGUE APP?
Facebook said it will ban the apps involved and notify the public using the same tool on its online help centre that told users if their information had been shared with Cambridge Analytica.
To check if you have been affected, click here.
The audit will identify apps that had access to large amounts of information prior to a 2014 Facebook policy change and then investigate those whose behavior raises concerns, Facebook said.
Writing in a blog post updating on the investigation, Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships Ime Archibong said: ‘We have large teams of internal and external experts working hard to investigate these apps as quickly as possible.
‘To date, thousands of apps have been investigated and around 200 have been suspended – pending a thorough investigation into whether they did in fact misuse any data.’
Mr Archibong said where evidence of data misuse is found, Facebook will ban the apps involved and notify the public using the same tool on its online help centre that told users if their information had been shared with Cambridge Analytica.
‘There is a lot more work to be done to find all the apps that may have misused people’s Facebook data – and it will take time,’ Mr Archibong said.
‘We are investing heavily to make sure this investigation is as thorough and timely as possible.
‘We will keep you updated on our progress.’
The investigation is one of a series of responses from Facebook following the data scandal, with new tools having also been rolled out to users to provide clearer access app permissions and privacy settings.
However, the social network is facing continued questions from lawmakers in the UK and US, and Zuckerberg has been threatened with a formal summons to appear before a parliamentary inquiry into fake news after a recent testimony by chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer was labelled ‘unsatisfactory’ after he failed to answer a number of questions from MPs.
WHAT IS THE CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA SCANDAL?
Communications firms Cambridge Analytica has offices in London, New York, Washington, as well as Brazil and Malaysia.
The company boasts it can ‘find your voters and move them to action’ through data-driven campaigns and a team that includes data scientists and behavioural psychologists.
‘Within the United States alone, we have played a pivotal role in winning presidential races as well as congressional and state elections,’ with data on more than 230 million American voters, Cambridge Analytica claims on its website.
The company profited from a feature that meant apps could ask for permission to access your own data as well as the data of all your Facebook friends.
The data firm suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix (pictured), after recordings emerged of him making a series of controversial claims, including boasts that Cambridge Analytica had a pivotal role in the election of Donald Trump
This meant the company was able to mine the information of 55 million Facebook users even though just 270,000 people gave them permission to do so.
This was designed to help them create software that can predict and influence voters’ choices at the ballot box.
The data firm suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix, after recordings emerged of him making a series of controversial claims, including boasts that Cambridge Analytica had a pivotal role in the election of Donald Trump.
This information is said to have been used to help the Brexit campaign in the UK.