After Facebook, another major social media outlet Twitter has now been caught up in the data scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, the British political consulting firm which collected the data of nearly 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge and permission, according to a media report.
Aleksandr Kogan, who created tools for Cambridge Analytica that allowed the political consultancy to psychologically profile and target voters, bought the data from the microblogging website in 2015, before the recent scandal came to light, The Sunday Telegraph reported.
Kogan had established Global Science Research, which was granted access to Twitter data. The academic said the information had only been used to create “brand reports” and “survey extender tools” and that he had not violated Twitter’s policies.
Kogan bought tweets, usernames, photos, profile pictures and location data from Twitter over a five-month period between December 2014 and April 2015 through his GSR, the report said.
Earlier this month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had admitted making a “huge mistake” as personal data of up to 87 million users may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.
Zuckerberg, 33, had said that he accepted blame for the data leak, which has angered users, advertisers and lawmakers, while also saying he was still the right person to head the company he founded.
According to the report, while most tweets are public, Twitter charges companies and organisations to collect them en masse.
Large datasets are particularly useful for building a pattern of public opinion or receptiveness to certain topics and ideas, although Twitter bans companies from using the data to derive sensitive political information or matching it with personal information obtained elsewhere, it said.
“Twitter has also made the policy decision to off-board advertising from all accounts owned and operated by Cambridge Analytica. This decision is based on our determination that Cambridge Analytica operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices,” a Twitter spokesperson said.
“Cambridge Analytica may remain an organic user on our platform, in accordance with the Twitter Rules,” the spokesperson added.
A Cambridge Analytica spokesperson said the company used Twitter for political advertising but insisted that it had never “undertaken a project with GSR focusing on Twitter data and Cambridge Analytica has never received Twitter data from GSR”.
It added that “Cambridge Analytica is a data-driven marketing agency and does not manipulate political views.”
Kogan told the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee last week that his company, GSR, was created in 2014 purely to create datasets for SCL – the parent group of Cambridge Analytica.
GSR developed a Facebook app that reportedly collected data from people who signed up to use the app as well as information from their Facebook friends, without the explicit approval of all involved. Kogan accused Cambridge Analytica’s now-suspended CEO Alexander Nix of “total fabrication” when it came to denying the links between Cambridge Analytica and GSR’s data.
Social-media companies have come under intense scrutiny over reports that Facebook failed to protect the privacy of its users. Companies like Twitter tend to have access to less private information than Facebook.
About 2,70,000 people downloaded Kogan’s personality-quiz app, which shared information on the people and their friends that then was improperly passed to Cambridge Analytica.
Zuckerberg has testified in front of Congress about the misuse of data, and lawmakers have called on Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google’s India-born CEO Sundar Pichai to testify as well.