A year after Cambridge Analytica scandal, calls for a national data strategy grow – CBC News

A year after Cambridge Analytica scandal, calls for a national data strategy grow - CBC News
Facebook faces fresh questions over when it knew of data harvesting
Canadians at risk of being 'data cows' absent big data strategy, documents showIt's been exactly one year since the Cambridge Analytica scandal landed with a deafening thud on the front pages of major news outlets.It's the day Canadian-born Christopher Wylie, with his signature pink hair, went public with allegations that the British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users and used it to create social media strategies to support U.S. President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign.

The stories from The New York Times and The Observer of London cast Facebook in a harsh light, with international lawmakers and users demanding more oversight about how people's information is weaponized.

New York (CNN Business)This week started with Facebook mistakenly removing ads critical of Facebook and ended with the company failing to immediately catch and remove an apparent livestream of a deadly attack.

Facebook marks one-year anniversary of Cambridge Analytica scandal with nightmare week

There was outrage over how easily the firm was able to gain access to personal data from Facebook and how ads were tailored to individual biases for use in the Brexit campaign and in Canadian political campaigns.

With the Liberal government's budget just around the corner, some business leaders and academics are once again pounding on the table for a national data strategy.

"We can't keep waiting on this. This has to start happening now because every month that we don't have this is another month where crazier things will happen for lack of a strategy," said Craig McLellan, the CEO of ThinkOn, a Toronto-based company that offers data management.

Ben Bergen, executive director of the Council of Canadian Innovators, has been pushing for a strategy since before the Cambridge Analytica scandal hit the news.

"Data underpins our everyday lives and it has impact on everything from, you know, the economy to privacy to national security," he said.

"And it's important that we get this right as a country. … If the railroads were important in the building of Canada, data is very much important iin the same way in the next hundred years in this country."

According to government figures, about 94 per cent of Canadian businesses use personal data and 90 per cent of the world's data has been created in the last two years.

"If it's stored in the United States, it is subject to the Patriot Act, which means the U.S. government has the right to know the data that is being stored in their country on an individual Canadian. … .Are we OK with the U.S. government knowing about our health status or knowing about our health care challenges or needs?" he said.

"I think the fact that there is a sort of a lack of clarity and a lack of understanding means that there needs to be a national strategy."

Individual privacy is not a right we simply trade away for innovation, efficiency or commercial gain.- Daniel Therrien, privacy commissionerSo far the government is toying with the idea.

Last summer the Liberals launched consultations with stakeholders in anticipation of drafting some sort of data policy. Those wrapped in October.

A spokesperson for Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said a report on what the government heard is coming soon.

It "will also form the basis of a principles-based approach," said Dani Keenan, spokesperson for Bains.

"The essence of what we heard was that this matters a great deal to Canadians, and that Canada has an opportunity to be a leader in the competitive, data-driven digital economy."

Bergen said he's not expecting a fleshed-out bill on Tuesday when Finance Minister Bill Morneau stands up in the House of Commons, but he would like to see bread crumbs signalling where the government is heading, with the ultimate goal of crafting regulations with some teeth.

"I think that the government does have the capacity to make sure that the large giants are playing fair," he said, speaking of the Facebooks and Googles of the world.

The federal privacy commissioner has called for an independent regulator to protect Canadians' data and privacy and has called the government's consultations "some of the most fundamental questions of our time."

Daniel Therrien's office didn't respond to CBC's request for comment, but in a letter sent to Bains in December he cautioned against giving the innovation industry too much power over Canadians' data.

"I am growing increasingly troubled that longstanding privacy rights and values in Canada are not being given equal importance within a new digital ecosystem eagerly focused on embracing and leveraging data for various purposes," he wrote.

"Individual privacy is not a right we simply trade away for innovation, efficiency or commercial gain."

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

The Observer has also learned of claims that a meeting was hosted at the office of Facebook board member and confidant of its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Marc Andreessen with Christopher Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, in the summer of 2016 just as the data firm started working for the Trump campaign.

Facebook has repeatedly refused to say when its senior executives, including Zuckerberg, learned of how Cambridge Analytica had used harvested data from millions of people across the world to target them with political messages without their consent. But Silicon Valley insiders have told the Observer that Facebook board member Marc Andreessen, the founder of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and one of the most influential people in Silicon Valley, attended a meeting with Wylie held in Andreessen Horowitzs office two years before he came forward as a whistleblower.

It marks the end of one of the worst weeks in Facebooks history. News of more criminal investigations and senior executives leaving the firm was topped by the shocking revelation on Friday that a gunman who killed 49 people at prayer in New Zealand livestreamed the massacre on Facebook. In the hours that followed, Facebook and Google failed to stop the footage going viral with hundreds of thousands of people viewing the video.

But the Observers revelations about Facebook open up a new angle on the year-long scandal, raising questions that go right up to board level.

Individuals who attended the meeting with Wylie and Andreessen claim it was set up to learn what Cambridge Analytica was doing with Facebooks data and how technologists could work to fix it. It is unclear in what capacity Andreesen Horowitz hosted and who attened the meeting but it is nonetheless a hugely embarrassing revelation for Facebook, which was revealed last week to be the subject of a criminal investigation into whether it had covered up the extent of its involvement with Cambridge Analytica.

The Guardian reports that political data firm Cambridge Analytica was helping Ted Cruzs presidential campaign, suggesting the Republican candidate was using psychological data based on research into tens of millions of Facebook users in an attempt to gain an advantage over his political rivals

Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy firm of which Steve Bannon is vice-president, starts working with Trump campaign aide Brad Parscale in San Antonio, alongside employees from Facebook and Google. Two months later, Donald Trump sacks Paul Manafort as his campaign manager and appoints Bannon. The campaign spends $6m on Cambridge Analyticas services

Christopher Wylie, a co-founder of Cambridge Analytica, claims in the Observer and the New York Times that the firm used 50 million harvested Facebook profiles in a major data scandal. This number was later revised by Facebook to 87 million. Wylie claimed the data sold to Cambridge Analytica was then used to develop “psychographic” profiles of people and deliver pro-Trump material to them online 

After four days of refusing to comment, Mark Zuckerberg publishes a Facebook post apologising for the data breach. The Facebook CEO responds to the continued fallout over the data scandal, saying: “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we cant then we dont deserve to serve you. Ive been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesnt happen again”

Zuckerberg takes out full-page ads in a number of British and American newspapers to apologise for a “breach of trust”

Facebook releases its first earnings report since the scandal was reported. The quarterly revenue was its highest for a first quarter and the second highest overall

Cambridge Analytica goes into administration. Days later it is reported that the FBI and the US Justice Department are investigating the company

The UKs Information Commissioners Office announces it intends to fine Facebook £500,000 ($663,000) over the data scandal, saying Facebook “contravened the law by failing to safeguard peoples information”. 

$119bn is knocked off Facebooks stock value when Zuckerberg announces that significant numbers of users are leaving the platform

Having refused multiple invitations to appear before the UK parliamentary inquiry into fake news, Mark Zuckerberg is “empty chaired” at a special committee meeting of members of nine national parliaments

It is reported that the US Justice Department is conducting a criminal inquiry into Facebooks data-sharing with other technology companies

Thank you for your feedback. Federal prosecutors in the northern district of California are investigating Facebooks claims that it didnt know about Cambridge Analyticas abuse of Facebook data until it was told by a Guardian reporter, the New York Times reported on Friday. We are co-operating with investigators and take these probes seriously, A Facebook spokesman told the New York Times.

Andreessen is one of Silicon Valleys most influential figures and was an early investor in Facebook. During the period in 2016 in which Facebook said that it was investigating the data abuse by Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie was invited to a meeting at the firm, Andreessen Horowitz.

Wylie, the young Canadian data scientist, would go on to expose the scandal in the Observer a year ago. He revealed then how Cambridge Analytica worked with a Cambridge University academic, Aleksandr Kogan, to harvest Facebook data from users, without their consent, in order to model their personalities and target them politically.

A Silicon Valley technologist with knowledge of the meeting at Andreessen Horowitz said: There were people who were very concerned by the reports of what Cambridge Analytica was doing with data, and the meeting was set up to try and find out as much about the exploit as possible in order to figure out possible solutions. Thats why Wylie was invited. They wanted his knowledge. He was asked a lot of questions including about the companys contacts with Russian entities.

It is understood that a Facebook group was formed, of which Wylie was a member, and it is believed Andreessen remained in touch with Wylie until the Observer broke the story of his involvement in March last year.

A Valley insider who attended the meeting saidThe weird thing is that there was no follow-up. The idea was to reverse-engineer the problem to find solutions. But we never learned of any follow-up with Facebooks security team or any attempt to put the information into action.

Andreessen Horowitz declined to answer any of the Observers questions. Facebook has repeatedly refused to tell members of Congress and the British parliamentary fake news inquiry when senior executives learned of the data abuse. It also declined to answer the Observers questions.

Following publication of this article, Marc Andreessen issued the following statement: The suggestion that I had or hosted a meeting involving Christopher Wylie is flatly and totally untrue. I have never met Wylie in my life. After the election of 2016, a mutual colleague suggested by email that I meet with Wylie, but that meeting never took place. Later, in early 2018, Wylie reached out to me on Twitter and asked for a meeting, which I turned down.

A spokesman said: Facebook was not aware of the transfer of data from Kogan/GSR [Kogans business Global Science Research] to Cambridge Analytica until December 2015. When Facebook learned about Kogans breach of Facebooks data use policies, we took action.

In another twist, Kogan told the New York Times on Friday that he intends to sue Facebook for defamation for claiming that he deceived the company about how he intended to use the data. A Facebook spokesman described the lawsuit as frivolous.

Damian Collins, the chair of parliaments fake news inquiry, said: Facebook has declined to say which executives knew what, when. Theyve never explained whether the data was destroyed or where it went.

Last year on the back of the story breaking, it said it was launching an internal investigation into what other developers had access to data, including companies like Palantir. And it never reported back. Its hard not to be suspicious about why it is being so evasive.

David Carroll, a US professor who has pursued Cambridge Analytica through the courts for failing to tell him what personal data it had on him, said it was critical to know who knew what when. Why is Facebook obfuscating? he said. We know Facebook actually employed Joseph Chancellor, Kogans business partner before the Guardians first report. It defies belief that no one knew anything. The answers Zuckerberg gave to Congress under oath are incredulous. Its incredible that a year on and we still dont know these basic facts.

Carrolls own ongoing battle with Cambridge Analytica reaches a critical point tomorrow. He is in the high court against Cambridge Analyticas administrators, to resist the winding up of the companies. Carroll is concerned by how far the administrators concealed the true nature of their relationship with Emerdata, the companys successor, and the true purpose of the attempt to wind up the company. Theyve done everything they can to avoid giving me my data. Its just the same as Facebook is doing. They seem desperate to stop the truth coming out. The administrators dispute the claims and are pursuing their attempts to liquidate and resisting Professor Carrolls attempt to remove them.

Ravi Naik, Carrolls solicitor, who won the Law Societys award for human rights lawyer of the year for his work on the case, said it was an important moment in his battle to find out the truth about what data Cambridge Analytica held.

Facebook have tried to avoid telling the truth through these evasive responses to lawmakers. And Cambridge Analytica have tried to do it through insolvency. We know that there was this completely toxic data swamp that was used to target people politically, but we still know nothing about where that data came from and how it was used. Were still completely in the dark. This is an attempt to crack that vault open.