Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who blew open Cambridge Analytica’s discreet yet large-scale harvesting of Facebook profiles of millions of users last month, recently told journalists that records obtained by Aleksandr Kogan’s app could be stored somewhere in Russia.
“I think that there is a genuine risk that this data has been accessed by quite a few people and it could be stored in various parts of the world, including Russia, given the fact that the professor who was managing the data harvesting process was going back and forth between the U.K. and Russia at the same time that he was working for Russian-funded projects on psychological profiling,” he told Chuck Todd from NBC.
“I couldn’t tell you how many people had access to it, that’s a question better answered by Cambridge Analytica, but I can say that various people had access to it,” he added.
Last month, Wylie told The Observer that Cambridge Analytica entered into an agreement with Global Science Research (GSR), a firm owned by Cambridge University academic Aleksandr Kogan. Thanks to the agreement, Kogan designed a new app named thisisyourdigitallife and then used it to collect Facebook data of hundreds of thousands of Facebook users who had agreed to take personality tests and to have their data collected for academic use.
Not only did Kogan’s app harvest Facebook data of those who participated in the tests, but also harvested profiles of their Facebook friends, thereby extending its reach to millions of users. While it was initially believed that around 270,000 Facebook users had consented to the personality tests, the BBC later learned that the real count of such Facebook users was 305,000.
While it was initially believed that Kogan harvested Facebook profiles of as many as 50 million users, Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer later announced that the scandal had, in fact, affected up to 87 million people, including 1,079,031 Facebook users in the UK.
Combating fake news & political interference
In a fresh blog post, Facebook announced yesterday the launch of a “new initiative to help provide independent, credible research about the role of social media in elections, as well as democracy more generally”.
Facebook said the new model would ensure that the tools that help politicians connect with their constituents and different communities debate the issues they care about will not be misused or manipulated to deceive users. It added that the research will also help it in fighting fake news and in combating foreign interference in elections in France, Germany, Alabama, and Italy.
“Facebook is building a dedicated team to work with the commission and academic researchers to develop the approved, privacy-protected datasets, which will be kept exclusively on Facebook’s global network of secure servers and subject to continuous audit.
“The commission will oversee publication, ensuring that only aggregated, anonymized results are reported. It will also develop a process to apply for data access for purposes of replication,” the company added.