Even though Facebook has suggested that the massive data harvesting operation by Cambridge Analytica was not a data breach, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has drawn severe criticism in the UK and the United States for downplaying the significance of the operation and its effect on data privacy of citizens.
As revealed by whistleblower Chris Wylie, data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica harvested personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users without obtaining prior consent in order to influence voters ahead of the Brexit referendum as well as the 2016 US presidential election.
Wylie added that even though Facebook knew about the operation carried out by Cambridge Analytica, the social media giant did not alert affected users about the data mining exercise.
"Facebook has known about this for at least two years and did almost nothing to fix it. This is not new. And it’s only by coming forward that Facebook is now taking action. People need to know this kind of profiling is happening," he told The Guardian.
Following Wylie's revelation, Facebook drew criticism from both government officials and privacy experts in the UK and the United States for not doing enough to protect user privacy or to expose the operation run by Cambridge Analytics.
Summons from the UK
In the UK, Damian Collins MP has asked Zuckerberg to appear before a select panel from the digital, culture, media and sport committee after accusing Facebook of consistently understating the risk from companies acquiring data of Facebook users.
"It is now time to hear from a senior Facebook executive with the sufficient authority to give an accurate account of this catastrophic failure of process ... Given your commitment at the start of the new year to ‘fixing’ Facebook, I hope that this representative will be you," he said in a letter to Mark Zuckerberg.
"Someone has to take responsibility for this. It’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to stop hiding behind his Facebook page," he added.
The Information Commissioner's Office is also investigating how Cambridge Analytica got hold of Facebook data of tens of millions of citizens and how Facebook allowed the data mining operation to happen.
"We are investigating the circumstances in which Facebook data may have been illegally acquired and used. It’s part of our ongoing investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes which was launched to consider how political parties and campaigns, data analytics companies and social media platforms in the UK are using and analysing people’s personal information to micro-target voters.
"It is important that the public are fully aware of how information is used and shared in modern political campaigns and the potential impact on their privacy. We are continuing to invoke all of our powers and are pursuing a number of live lines of inquiry. Any criminal and civil enforcement actions arising from the investigation will be pursued vigorously," ICO announced in a new blog post.
Did Facebook interfere with the ICO's investigation?
Damian Collins has also questioned the presence of Facebook’s investigators at Cambridge Analytica's office soon after news broke about the firm's data harvesting operation affecting millions of Facebook users.
"We were told this last night and I don’t think the information commissioner was aware of that at that time. This is a matter for the authorities. Facebook sent in data analysts and lawyers who they appointed; what they intended to do there, who knows?
"The concern would have been, were they removing information or evidence which could have been vital to the investigation? It’s right they stood down but it’s astonishing they were there in the first place," he told the BBC.
According to the HuffPost UK, two men were spotted carrying away "around 10 crates filled with files and documents" from the building where Cambridge Analytica is located. Thee two men refused to comment when asked if they were working for Cambridge Analytica.
Even in the United States, where Cambridge Analytica was found collecting Facebook data of tens of millions of users prior to the 2016 presidential election, Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is a member of the Judiciary Committee, called for Mark Zuckerberg to testify before the Senate Judiciary. "This is a major breach that must be investigated. It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves," she said.
"This is more evidence that the online political advertising market is essentially the Wild West. It’s clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency," said Mark Warner, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.