On 16 March 2018, the social media company Facebook announced it would suspend psychographics firms Cambridge Analytica and its parent company SCL Group along with whistleblower Christopher Wylie and psychologist Aleksandr Kogan from its platform in the wake of a massive privacy scandal.
Although the Silicon Valley firm’s officials made the announcement via Facebook’s official channels, some readers questioned whether it was true that Wylie’s account was suspended in response to his decision to come forward; it is.
Wylie went public in mid-March 2018 with revelations that Cambridge Analytica improperly acquired data from millions of Facebook users, and then used that information to psychologically profile people in an attempt to manipulate the 2016 election; their services had been retained by Donald Trump’s campaign, he said.
According to Facebook’s official statement, the suspensions came after the company learned that Kogan, a Cambridge University researcher had taken data collected from an app that allowed users to take a personality quiz. Instead of using it for academic purposes, as he claimed, Kogan passed it on to Cambrdige Analytica.
Facebook learned about the transaction in 2015 and removed the app for violating platform policies, then suspended the accounts of those involved in the unraveling scandal in March 2018, once the breach became public knowledge and the company learned that Cambridge Analytica did not delete the information it had taken:
Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted. We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims. If true, this is another unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments they made. We are suspending SCL/Cambridge Analytica, Wylie and Kogan from Facebook, pending further information.
Wylie disputes Facebook’s story, however, tweeting that he was suspended because of the backlash — not because Facebook was made aware of new information:
— Christopher Wylie (@chrisinsilico) March 18, 2018
On 4 April 2018, Facebook announced that as many as 87 million users — 37 million more than originally reported — had data from their profiles improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica. Later in the afternoon, the social media giant quietly amended that number to “most” of its 2 billion users.
Cadwalladr, Carole. “‘I Made Steve Bannon’s Psychological Warfare Tool’: Meet the Data War Whistleblower.”
The Guardian. 18 March 2018.
Weaver, Matthew. “Facebook Scandal: I Am Being Used as Scapegoat – Academic Who Mined Data.”
The Guardian. 21 March 2018.
Shieber, Jonathan. “Facebook Has Suspended the Account of the Whistleblower Who Exposed Cambridge Analytica.”
TechCrunch. 18 March 2018.