Facebook, a social networking company which exists for the sole reason of harvesting the personal information of its users and making it available for commercial exploitation, has come under fire for harvesting the personal information of its users and making it available for commercial exploitation - in this case by right-wing political campaign group Cambridge Analytica, provider of data powering both the Brexit and Donald Trump campaigns.

Over the weekend, interviews with Christopher Wylie appeared in publications including The Guardian and The New York Times detailing his claimed development of what he describes as '[then-chair of right-wing political news network Brietbart] Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool'. Psychological profiles of an estimated 230 million Americans and numerous other nationals, generated from data obtained semi-clandestinely from social network giant Facebook.

'We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people's profiles,' Wylie claims in a second piece published by The Guardian. 'And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company [Cambridge Analytica] was built on.'

The data was gathered, Wylie claims, from an application dubbed thisisyourdigitallife written by Aleksandr Kogan. Hundreds of thousands of users were paid to take a personality test through the application with the data pegged for 'academic use, while the app itself quietly gathered and collated data on all their Facebook friends as well - a move forbidden by the site's terms and conditions. Far from ended up in academia, all the collected data was then used by Cambridge Analytica to develop aggressive psychological profiles on US and UK citizens ahead of major votes and, it is claimed, work out the best way to pressure said voting public into two particular decisions: Electing reality TV personality Donald Trump as US President and voting for the UK to leave the European Union in a process colloquially dubbed 'Brexit''.

Following the publication of Wylie's story, Facebook went on the defensive - in particular to deny that, even if Cambridge Analytica had access to the information Wylie claims, it represents a breach of the company's security and responsibility to its users. That, unsurprisingly, turns out to have been the wrong argument to make: The New York Times reported a day later on calls from the UK and US to investigate Facebook's participation in Cambridge Analytica's campaigns and its provision of data to same, while Facebook's claims that Cambridge Analytica had not improperly accessed its user data - made, then deleted, on rival social network Twitter by Facebook's chief security officer Alex Stamos - fell flat following its decision to remove both the company and whistleblower Wylie from the site.

With Cambridge Analytica now cut off from its source of data, it's unclear how the company will continue to operate; for Facebook, there's now a long road ahead in regaining the trust of its users - the site's sole marketable resource.

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October 14 2021 | 15:04