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Facebook Inc on Friday said it was suspending political data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, which worked for President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign, after finding data privacy policies had been violated.
Facebook said in a statement that it suspended Cambridge Analytica and its parent group Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) after receiving reports that they did not delete information about Facebook users that had been inappropriately shared.
Facebook did not mention the Trump campaign or any political campaigns in its statement, attributed to company Deputy General Counsel Paul Grewal.
"We will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior," Facebook said, adding that it was continuing to investigate the claims.
Cambridge Analytica worked for the failed presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and then for the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. On its website, it says it "provided the Donald J. Trump for President campaign with the expertise and insights that helped win the White House."
“Cambridge Analytica fully complies with Facebook’s terms of service and is currently in touch with Facebook following its recent statement that it had suspended the company from its platform, in order to resolve this matter as quickly as possible,” Cambridge Analytica said in a statement, adding that the company does not “use or hold data from Facebook profiles.”
The statement goes on to say that in 2014, Cambridge Analytica contracted Global Science Research, led by a “seemingly reputable academic at an internationally-renowned institution to undertake a large scale research project in the United States.”
Cambridge Analytica said that Global Science Research was contractually obligated to obtain data in accordance with the UK Data Protection Act, and to “seek the informed consent of each respondent.”
“When it subsequently became clear that the data had not been obtained by GSR in line with Facebook’s terms of service, Cambridge Analytica deleted all data received from GSR,” the statement said.
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Cambridge Analytica went on to say that no data from Global Science Research was provided to the Trump campaign.
Brad Parscale, who ran Trump's digital ad operation in 2016 and is his 2020 campaign manager, declined to comment on Friday.
In past interviews with Reuters, Parscale has said that Cambridge Analytica played a minor role as a contractor in the 2016 Trump campaign, and that the campaign used voter data from a Republican-affiliated organization rather than Cambridge Analytica.
Facebook's Grewal said the company was taking the unusual step of announcing the suspension "given the public prominence" of Cambridge Analytica and its parent organization.
The suspension means Cambridge Analytica and SCL cannot buy ads on the world's largest social media network or administer pages belonging to clients, Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook vice president, said in a Twitter post.
Trump’s campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in June 2016 and paid it more than $6.2 million, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Cambridge Analytica says it uses "behavioral microtargeting," or combining analysis of people’s personalities with demographics, to predict and influence mass behavior. It says it has data on 220 million Americans, two thirds of the U.S. population.
It has worked on other campaigns in the United States and other countries, and it is funded by Robert Mercer, a prominent supporter of politically conservative groups.
Facebook in its statement described a rocky relationship with Cambridge Analytica and two individuals going back to 2015.
That year, Facebook said, it learned that University of Cambridge professor Aleksandr Kogan lied to the company and violated its policies by sharing data that he acquired with a so-called "research app" that used Facebook's login system.
Kogan was not immediately available for comment.
The app was downloaded by about 270,000 people. Facebook said that Kogan gained access to profile and other information "in a legitimate way" but "he did not subsequently abide by our rules" when he passed the data to SCL/Cambridge Analytica and Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies. Eunoia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Facebook said it cut ties to Kogan's app when it learned of the violation in 2015, and asked for certification from Kogan and all parties he had given data to that the information had been destroyed.
Although all certified that they had destroyed the data, Facebook said that it received reports in the past several days that "not all data was deleted," prompting the suspension announced on Friday.
“If these reports are true, it's a serious abuse of our rules. All parties involved — including the SCL Group/Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie and Aleksandr Kogan — certified to us that they destroyed the data in question," Grewal said in a statement Saturday. "We will take whatever steps are required to see that the data in question is deleted once and for all — and take action against all offending parties.”