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Facebook data breach. What could it mean for the UK?

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How the Facebook data scandal started

Last week, a whistle-blower revealed how Facebook data was harvested to target American voters on behalf of Donald Trump's election team.

Speaking to journalists, Christopher Wylie, an ex-employee of data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, said that:

  • 50 million Facebook profiles were harvested by UK-based Aleksandre Kogan and his company Global Science Research
  • Kogan shared this information with Cambridge Analytica
  • Cambridge Analytica used this data to predict and influence choices at the ballot box
  • This personal information was taken without authorisation.

The accusations of data harvesting, and the use to which it was put, raises burning questions about the role Facebook played in influencing US presidential election.

Why does this matter in the UK?

As well as working for former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, Cambridge Analytica was employed by the winning Brexit campaign. This raises concerns over whether data was illegally acquired and used to impact the EU referendum result. If so, there could be the potential for a massive group action case.

At present both the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner's Office are undertaking separate investigations into the activities of Facebook and the retention, sharing and distribution of data illegally in the UK.

A statement by Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner said:

"We are investigating the circumstances in which Facebook data may have been illegally acquired and used.

"It's part of our ongoing investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes which was launched to consider how political parties and campaigns, data analytics companies and social media platforms in the UK are using and analysing people's personal information to micro target voters.

"It is important that the public are fully aware of how information is used and shared in modern political campaigns and the potential impact on their privacy.

"We are continuing to invoke all of our powers and are pursuing a number of live lines of inquiry. Any criminal and civil enforcement actions arising from the investigation will be pursued vigorously".

Parliament is also investigating Facebook to explain its approach to political marketing and the sharing of confidential information. The EU has said that the Facebook data breach, if confirmed, is "horrifying".