Facebook announced on Friday that has suspended the data-analytics firms, Cambridge Analytica and Strategic Communication Laboratories from its platform, for its handling of user data.
"Protecting people's information is at the heart of what we do, and we require the same from people who operate apps on Facebook," a company executive said in a press release.
President Donald Trump's campaign used Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 election as part of its voter-outreach operation.
The firm has been been scrutinized amid accusations of misuse and has since become a thread in the ongoing Russia investigation.
Facebook announced on Friday that Cambridge Analytica, the data-analysis firm that played an important role in Donald Trump's online strategy during the 2016 election, has been suspended from the social-media platform for mishandling user data.
"Given the public prominence of this organization, we want to take a moment to explain how we came to this decision and why," Facebook VP and deputy general counsel Paul Grewel said in a press release on Friday night.
Grewal noted that another company, Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), was also suspended. By booting the companies its platform "pending further information," Facebook will no longer allow them to buy ads or manage their pages.
"Protecting people's information is at the heart of what we do, and we require the same from people who operate apps on Facebook," Grewel said, noting that Facebook had received recent reports of violations of its rules.
According to Grewal's statement, a University of Cambridge professor who had developed a personality prediction app for Facebook users called "thisisyourdigitallife" improperly passed user information to other parties including Cambridge Analytica and SCL in 2015. Facebook allows some apps to get access to a user's profile and important data that identifies the user's preferences and interests.
Facebook said the professor, Cambridge Analytica and the other parties involved agreed to destroy all the data at the time. But, Grewel said on Friday, "several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted. We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims.
Such information, if misused, can potentially help bad actors target Facebook users with ads and other information. This was apparently the case during the 2016 US presidential election. President Donald Trump's campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in June that year to help target ads using voter data gathered from some 230 million adults.
The firm later came under scrutiny after a number of troubling discoveries, including that Cambridge Analytica's CEO had reportedly reached out to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in an effort to find some of then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's deleted emails.
The matter of those emails and an FBI investigation surrounding Clinton's use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state had hamstrung the Clinton campaign, and was seen as one part of a broader effort by Russian operatives to influence the election.
The Trump campaign has since sought to distance itself from Cambridge Analytica.
Read Facebook's entire statement on Cambridge Analytica and Strategic Communication Laboratories below:
"By Paul Grewal, VP & Deputy General Counsel
We are suspending Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), including their political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, from Facebook. Given the public prominence of this organization, we want to take a moment to explain how we came to this decision and why.
We Maintain Strict Standards and Policies
Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do, and we require the same from people who operate apps on Facebook. In 2015, we learned that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan lied to us and violated our Platform Policies by passing data from an app that was using Facebook Login to SCL/Cambridge Analytica, a firm that does political, government and military work around the globe. He also passed that data to Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, Inc.
Like all app developers, Kogan requested and gained access to information from people after they chose to download his app. His app, “thisisyourdigitallife,” offered a personality prediction, and billed itself on Facebook as “a research app used by psychologists.” Approximately 270,000 people downloaded the app. In so doing, they gave their consent for Kogan to access information such as the city they set on their profile, or content they had liked, as well as more limited information about friends who had their privacy settings set to allow it.
Although Kogan gained access to this information in a legitimate way and through the proper channels that governed all developers on Facebook at that time, he did not subsequently abide by our rules. By passing information on to a third party, including SCL/Cambridge Analytica and Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, he violated our platform policies. When we learned of this violation in 2015, we removed his app from Facebook and demanded certifications from Kogan and all parties he had given data to that the information had been destroyed. Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Wylie all certified to us that they destroyed the data.
Breaking the Rules Leads to Suspension
Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted. We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims. If true, this is another unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments they made. We are suspending SCL/Cambridge Analytica, Wylie and Kogan from Facebook, pending further information.
We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information. We will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens. We will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior.
How Things Have Changed
We are constantly working to improve the safety and experience of everyone on Facebook. In the past five years, we have made significant improvements in our ability to detect and prevent violations by app developers. Now all apps requesting detailed user information go through our App Review process, which requires developers to justify the data they’re looking to collect and how they’re going to use it – before they’re allowed to even ask people for it.
In 2014, after hearing feedback from the Facebook community, we made an update to ensure that each person decides what information they want to share about themselves, including their friend list. This is just one of the many ways we give people the tools to control their experience. Before you decide to use an app, you can review the permissions the developer is requesting and choose which information to share. You can manage or revoke those permissions at any time.
On an ongoing basis, we also do a variety of manual and automated checks to ensure compliance with our policies and a positive experience for users. These include steps such as random audits of existing apps along with the regular and proactive monitoring of the fastest growing apps.
We enforce our policies in a variety of ways — from working with developers to fix the problem, to suspending developers from our platform, to pursuing litigation."