On March 17th, The Guardian and The New York Times published a groundbreaking article about whistleblower Christopher Wylie and his role in harvesting Facebook data used by Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm contracted by the Trump campaign. Wylie asserts they accessed the personal information of 50 million Facebook users without their permission, gathering information via an app called “Thisisyourdigitallife,” which sold itself as a research app used by psychologists to predict personality. Approximately 270,000 people downloaded the app, collecting detailed information on not only them, but also their online friends who never gave consent. Personal information harvested included name, education, work history, birthdays, likes, locations, photos, relationship status, religious affiliations and political membership. Even more disturbing, The Guardian claims Facebook was made aware of the data breach in 2015, yet they did nothing to ensure the stolen data was destroyed.
The Attorney General of Massachusetts has already launched an investigation into Cambridge Analytica, and Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Kennedy (R-LA) have sent a joint letter to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, demanding chief executives of Facebook, Twitter, and Google testify before Congress about how their companies share personal user data. “While Facebook has pledged to enforce its policies to protect people’s information, questions remain as to whether those policies are sufficient and whether Congress should take action to protect people’s private information,” wrote Klobuchar and Kennedy.
Congress and State Attorneys General must act swiftly to investigate the practices of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook to ensure the online privacy of users is safeguarded and not shared without informed consent.