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Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm used by the Trump campaign during the 2016 elections, insisted on Saturday that it did not misuse or hold data obtained from Facebook users, despite having been sanctioned by the platform for doing so.
On Friday, Facebook announced that it had suspended Cambridge Analytica, suggesting the firm had not been honest about deleting user data sent to it by the makers of a popular psychology test app.
That particular app, called "thisisyourdigitallife," was itself banned by Facebook back in 2015. However, the social network has accused Cambridge Analytica of holding that data, despite assurances to the contrary.
"Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted," Facebook said in a blog post. "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."
Cambridge Analytica now finds itself in the middle of a political firestorm, amid a roiling debate over 'information warfare' that is being used to influence the electoral process. It stands accused of harvesting Facebook user data to profile voters that that were ultimately targeted by the Trump campaign, which spent over $6 million on information obtained by the firm.
Yet on Saturday, Cambridge Analytica issued a statement insisting it "fully complies" with Facebook's terms of service, and was working with the site to resolve the issue.
"Cambridge Analytica's commercial and political divisions use social media platforms for outward marketing, delivering data-led and creative content to targeted audiences. They do not use or hold data from Facebook profiles," the firm said, as it sought to distance itself from a company it originally contracted to mine information.
"In 2014, we contracted a company 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.
"This company, Global Science Research (GSR), was contractually committed by us to only obtain data in accordance with the U.K. Data Protection Act and to seek the informed consent of each respondent," it added.
"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," Cambridge said.
"We worked with Facebook over this period to ensure that they were satisfied that we had not knowingly breached any of Facebook's terms of service and also provided a signed statement to confirm that all Facebook data and their derivatives had been deleted," it added.
In a statement, Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner, one of the most prominent voices in the debate about online political advertising, said the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook spat was indicative of a market that's "essentially the Wild West" of advertising.
"Whether it's allowing Russians to purchase political ads, or extensive micro-targeting based on ill-gotten user data, it's clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency," Warner said on Saturday.
"This is another strong indication of the need for Congress to quickly pass the Honest Ads Act to bring transparency and accountability to online political advertisements," the senator added.
The firm, initially funded by a multimillion investment by conservative billionaire Robert Mercer and helmed by former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, touted tools using data to identify and sway voters. That approach is now under fire on both sides of the Atlantic.
"All parties involved — including the SCL Group/Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie and [thisisyourdigitallife creator] Aleksandr Kogan— certified to us that they destroyed the data in question," said Paul Grewal, Facebook's vice president and deputy general counsel.
"In light of new reports that the data was not destroyed, we are suspending these three parties from Facebook, pending further information. 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," Grewal added.
Despite Facebook's claims that Cambridge Analytica used the information in the service of Trump's presidential ambitions, the firm dismissed the notion.
"No data from GSR was used by Cambridge Analytica as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign," it said. "Cambridge Analytica only receives and uses data that has been obtained legally and fairly."
Christopher Wylie, one of Cambridge Analytica's founders who left the firm in 2014, spoke disparagingly about the company in an interview with The New York Times published on Saturday.
"Rules don't matter for them. For them, this is a war, and it's all fair," Wylie told the publication. "They want to fight a culture war in America," he added. "Cambridge Analytica was supposed to be the arsenal of weapons to fight that culture war.
Below is Cambridge Analytica's full statement:
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's Commercial and Political divisions use social media platforms for outward marketing, delivering data-led and creative content to targeted audiences. They do not use or hold data from Facebook profiles.
In 2014, we contracted a company led by a seemingly reputable academic at an internationally-renowned institution to undertake a large scale research project in the United States.
This company, Global Science Research (GSR), was contractually committed by us to only obtain data in accordance with the UK Data Protection Act and to seek the informed consent of each respondent. GSR was also contractually the Data Controller (as per Section 1(1) of the Data Protection Act) for any collected data. GSR obtained Facebook data via an API provided by Facebook.
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.
We worked with Facebook over this period to ensure that they were satisfied that we had not knowingly breached any of Facebook's terms of service and also provided a signed statement to confirm that all Facebook data and their derivatives had been deleted.
No data from GSR was used by Cambridge Analytica as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign.
Cambridge Analytica only receives and uses data that has been obtained legally and fairly. Our robust data protection policies comply with US, international, European Union, and national regulations.