Federal Trade Commission files Complaint against Cambridge Analytica for deception resulting in release of private info from Facebook

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed an Administrative Complaint against data-mining company Cambridge Analytica and reached settlements with the former CEO and an app developer who worked with the company. The FTC complaint filed on Wednesday alleges Cambridge Analytica used false and deceptive tactics to harvest personal information from tens of millions of Facebook users, which was later used to profile U.S. voters. The FTC says the UK-based political consultancy, which advised the President in his 2016 campaign, violated U.S. federal law by using ‘trickery’ to access Facebook user data. The FTC also reached settlements with ex-CEO Alexander Nix, a British national, and app developer Aleksander Kogan, a U.S. citizen, requiring them to destroy any personal data they have collected and restricted how they do business in the future.

Former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix agreed in the settlement to destroy all data obtained from Facebook. In a separate but related action on Wednesday, the FTC reached a settlement with Facebook in which the social media giant agreed to pay a record $5 billion fine for violating consumers’ privacy. In 2014, when Cambridge Analytica partnered with Kogan to develop detailed psychological profiles of potential voters. Kogan was the developer of a Facebook application called the GSRApp sometimes referred to as the ‘thisisyourdigitallife’ app, which asked its users to answer personality and other questions, and collected information such a user’s ‘likes’.

The FTC alleges Kogan, together with Cambridge Analytica and Nix used data obtained from the GSRApp to advance an algorithm that generated personality scores for the app users and their friends. Cambridge Analytica, Kogan, and Nix then matched these personality scores with U.S. voter records for its voter profiling and targeted advertising services, according to the complaint. To convince Facebook users to take the personality quiz, the app assured them that it would not ‘download your name or any other identifiable information we are interested in your demographics and likes.’ The FTC claims that it was a false statement. Aleksander Kogan, who developed the personality quiz app that got the data of some 30 million US consumers, agreed to a similar settlement with the FTC. According to the complaint, Cambridge Analytics ultimately used the app to collect Facebook data from between 250,000 and 270,000 U.S. users, as well as between 50 million and 65 million of those users’ Facebook Friends, including approximately 30 million identifiable U.S. consumers.

In addition, the FTC alleges that Cambridge Analytica falsely claimed until at least November 2018 that it was a participant in the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield framework, even though the company allowed its certification to lapse in May 2018. As part of the proposed settlement with the FTC, Kogan and Nix are prohibited from making false or deceptive statements regarding the extent to which they collect, use, share, or sell personal information, as well as the purposes for which they use such information.

In addition, they are required to delete or destroy any personal information collected from consumers via the GSRApp.

The complaint against Cambridge Analytica remains pending, and the company is currently in bankruptcy.