Political firm Cambridge Analytica accused of rigging elections worldwide

Political firm Cambridge Analytica accused of rigging elections worldwide
Photo credit: Getty.

There's been a global outcry after it was revealed the personal information of up to 50 million Facebook users was sold to political analysis company Cambridge Analytica, who are accused of rigging elections across the world.

Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix has been suspended and will be compelled to appear before the UK intelligence committee over a possible false testimony he gave earlier this year regarding his company's actions.

In the United States, Senators are now calling for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear before Congress:

"Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify; he needs to be subpoenaed if he won’t do it voluntarily," Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told Politico.

Cambridge Analytica markets itself as a political analysis company that builds a political profile of online users based on their digital information.

It targets users with political ads based on their preferences and according to their particular psychological makeup.

An undercover investigation by the UK’s Channel 4 secretly filmed executives saying the company had been contracted to influence over 200 elections throughout Europe, Africa, and the Americas, using tactics including blackmail and smear campaigns.

Where the company’s data came from, what it was used for, and the clients it served are now under intense public and legal scrutiny.

One of the firm's principal clients in 2016 was the Trump campaign. It also had meetings with Russian oil giant 'Lukoil', which in turn has very close ties to the Kremlin.

The company is also alleged to work with a Russian-backed psychologist when designing its systems.

The Facebook data in question was sold to the firm by a Cambridge University professor, Aleksandr Kogan in 2014. Professor Kogan is also an associate professor at St Petersburg University in Russia.

He created an app that harvested the Facebook information of its users and all of their Facebook friends, called "thisismydigitallife".

The design of the app meant one user could provide the Facebook data of over a thousand people.

This technically isn't illegal, as users who downloaded the app gave permission for it to access their Facebook data. Facebook's rules allowed Professor Kogan to store that information, as long as it was for 'strictly academic purposes'.

But instead, he sold it to Cambridge Analytica.

The company is an offshoot of Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), a massive military contractor based in London. A military parent company makes sense according to an ex-employee and whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, who describes Cambridge Analytica as dealing in "weaponised data".  

In an interview on the Today Show this week, Mr Wylie talked about how the company's goal was to "explore mental vulnerabilities of people, and then map out ways to inject information into different streams or channels of content online so that people started to see things all over the place that may or may not have been true”.

Mr Wylie stressed that the company was "founded" on the misappropriated data taken from Facebook users, and that it actively spread misinformation for political ends.

"This is a company that took fake news to the next level by powering it with algorithms."

Except for suspending its CEO, Cambridge Analytica has so far denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

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