Authorities in the UK have ordered Cambridge Analytica to hand over all of the information that it acquired on a US voter. For those of you who don’t remember, Cambridge Analytica is the firm that is at the center of the data scandal that stole 87 million Facebook users’ information. If granted, this could potentially open the floodgates for others to know what information that Cambridge Analytica has on them. But why are authorities in the UK concerned about this?
Let’s take a step back for a moment. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office has ordered Cambridge Analytica to hand over the files that they have on professor David Carroll – to David Caroll. The ICO has said that because Caroll’s data was processed in the UK, he qualifies for the same treatment given to UK citizens under British law. Are you as confused as I am?
As a US citizen, David Carroll had no means of obtaining the information from Cambridge Analytica under US law. But in January 2016, he discovered that Cambridge Analytica had processed US voter data in the UK, and this gave him rights under British law. This is insane, isn’t it? The case was taken to the ICO by David Carroll himself. Cambridge Analytica has refused to accept this and told the ICO that Carroll was no more entitled to make this request under the UK Data Protection Act “than a member of the Taliban sitting in a cave in the remotest corner of Afghanistan”. That seems a bit harsh, don’t you think?
Let’s take an even farther step back for a moment. Cambridge Analytica, which was founded in coordination with top Republican donors and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. The original goal was to work on US elections, but it is being reported to have operated as a front for SCL Group, which is a British company. Now, they deny that any of the Facebook data collected was used for their work on the Donald Trump presidential campaign, or even the Brexit referendum. But their credibility is kind of in the tube. No pun intended.
Now, both Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group are shutting down since they are knee high in this scandal. But they’re also involved in another scandal which includes footage of executives bragging about their shady tactics during the election. The ICO has made it clear, however, that shutting down the company doesn’t exempt them from releasing the data that they have. If they refuse, the ICO will treat it as a criminal offense.
Unfortunately, it seems like authorities haven’t been able to gain access to the information on the servers that were seized from Cambridge Analytica. What makes this whole story so interesting is that Carroll’s case sets a precedent for other American’s to demand that they hand over the data. The data was obtained without their consent. It was obtained via prior versions of Facebook’s ad tools that made it extremely simple to aggregate large amounts of information on users’ friends. This is noteworthy because thanks to the extremely lax laws in the US governing data privacy, Facebook has essentially been able to inform users about what happened on their terms and at a pace of their choosing.
Why is this important? If Cambridge Analytica finds itself in the middle of a class action lawsuit, it could be forced to hand over the massive amounts of data that it collected. Facebook is being quite vague about what happened or how much data was taken. While the 87 million users in question are the most likely to demand their files, Cambridge Analytica bragged about having thousands of data points on 240 million Americans who could all theoretically be rolled into a huge class action.