Privacy Commissioner to scrutinise Cambridge Analytica access to Facebook data

Timothy Pilgrim to investigate if any Australians’ data disclosed

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner says it is investigating whether any personal information of Australians was disclosed to Cambridge Analytica without authorisation.

The data analytics company, which provided voter-profiling services to US President Donald Trump’s election campaign, has come under scrutiny after allegations that it gained access to some the data of some 50 million Facebook users without proper authorisation.

An investigation by the New York Times and The Observer revealed that the firm had acquired the data from researcher Aleksandr Kogan. Facebook said that Kogan claimed to have been collecting the data for academic purposes.

“I am aware of the reports that users’ Facebook profile information was acquired and used without authorisation,” a statement issued by Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim said.

“My Office is making inquiries with Facebook to ascertain whether any personal information of Australians was involved.”

“I will consider Facebook’s response and whether any further regulatory action is required,” Pilgrim said.

“The Privacy Act 1988 confers a range of privacy regulatory powers which include powers to investigate an alleged interference with privacy and enforcement powers ranging from less serious to more serious regulatory action, including powers to accept an enforceable undertaking, make a determination, or apply to the court for a civil penalty order for a breach of a civil penalty provision.”

Cambridge Analytica said that in 2014 it contracted Global Science Research, led by Kogan, to obtain Facebook data.

“This company... was contractually committed by us to only obtain data in accordance with the UK Data Protection Act and to seek the informed consent of each respondent,” the Cambridge Analytica said.

The company said that when it “became clear that the data had not been obtained by GSR in line with Facebook’s terms of service,” Cambridge Analytica deleted the data it had received from GSR.

Facebook has retained digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg to conduct an audit of Cambridge Analytica’s systems.

“This is part of a comprehensive internal and external review that we are conducting to determine the accuracy of the claims that the Facebook data in question still exists,” a statement issued by Facebook said.

Facebook later revealed that it had suspended its audit at the request of the UK Information Commissioner’s Office.

Read more: Cambridge Analytica CEO claims influence on U.S. election, Facebook questioned

The UK ICO is conducting its own investigation.

“We are investigating the circumstances in which Facebook data may have been illegally acquired and used,” UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said.

“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.”

Denham said the investigation would include the acquisition and use of Facebook data by Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, SCL Group.

“This is a complex and far reaching investigation for my office and any criminal or civil enforcement actions arising from it will be pursued vigorously,” Denham said.

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