Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach


“A whistleblower has revealed to the Observer how Cambridge Analytica – a company owned by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and headed at the time by Trump’s key adviser Steve Bannon – used personal information taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised political advertisements.”

We’ve heard rumblings of this before, particularly in Carole Cadwalladr’s previous reporting on Brexit and Cambridge Analytica (which lead Britain’s Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner’s Office to launch an investigation into Brexit and Cambridge Analytica.) But having a whistleblower confirming so much information from the inside is monumental. I’d really recommend watching The Guardian’s interview with whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who worked for Cambridge Analytica. (He has now been suspended from using Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram!)

What’s really important to note about all of this is that Facebook is not an innocent party, regardless of whether their platform policies were “breached” or “abused.” Some thoughts on this from smart people below:

“To every commentator now asking how Facebook could have given access to such intimate profiles of people to third parties, I ask you: what makes it right that Facebook, Inc. has that information to begin with and uses it to manipulate people for its profit and political motives?”—@aral

“If your business is building a massive surveillance machinery, the data will eventually be used & misused. Hacked, breached, leaked, pilfered, conned, “targeted”, “engaged”, “profiled”, sold… There is no informed consent because it’s not possible to reasonably inform or consent.”—Zeynep Tufecki

“Facebook could do the ultimate version of this kind of correlation-based marketing in-house, of course: ’want to target people who might be interested in X? Here are the best-correlated interests with the highest numbers of people in area Y’”—James Ball

“People are right to be concerned about the actions of Kogan and Cambridge Analytica - although some are undeniably resurfacing outrage about Trump & Brexit results. But it isn’t unique. All campaigns now use digital targeting.

I’m uncomfortable about this, but primarily concerned about the state’s use of data and the potential for Facebook’s own use, both of which could be unspeakably powerful. BTW, literally everything Facebook has is grabbable by UK Government (see Part 7 Investigatory Powers Act).”—Silkie Carlo

And on why it was not really a “breach”:

“Ah I see, Facebook wasn’t “breached”, the firm just exploited weak default account privacy protections by taking advantage of a user perception that using Facebook to log into a 3rd party app was safe.

Totally different thing.”—Sarah Jamie Lewis


Andreas Ekström, journalist at local Malmö morning paper Sydsvenska Dagbladet, has written a column on the topic of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. It’s in Swedish and behind a paywall, so I’ll provide a quick/bad translation of interesting parts.

The title is The problem is Facebook itself, and he starts by asking “Will the Cambridge Analytica-scandal finally wake us up from our digital sleep and make us demand a different digital society?”

Further on, he writes:

…Somehow we probably understand that this isn’t entirely good… …it’s convenient. nice and then personality tests here and log in with your Facebook account there, and everything works, and everything is cosy, and the total knowledge about the individual person in that database becomes unsuitably large.

After a recap of events and how CA were cut off from further collaboration, he references Antonio García Martínez’ Chaos Monkeys , Zeynep Tufekci and our friend @aral before concluding that the problem is something else:

The problem is Facebook itself. The business model. The anatomy. Aral Balkan never misses an opportunity to call it “surveillance capitalism”. When we know enough about absolutely everything you do, we will always have a way to make money from it.

He writes that we we have to understand that we’re still just at the beginning of this, however, he does not know how we can escape our weak position:

…the Fair Trade coffee-factor is far away when the digital consumer makes his decisions.

The column was published in the Culture section of the printed edition yesterday; I have yet to see a sharp analysis over in the News pages.

By the way, Andreas Ekström wrote a book after being embedded at Google in 2010. In it, and while seeing the benefits of their services, he describes the problems with Google’s dominance. I think he was on to that quite early.


Thanks for sharing, @erik3745!


You have had some impact in Malmö :slight_smile: !

And even if things move very slowly, I think a column like this counts as good news. Just like the the discussion about shadow profiles on Facebook that is held right now on Swedish public service radio