European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Vera Jourova, did not mince her words when commenting on news that a firm working for US President Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign harvested data on 50m Facebook users. She said the revelations are “horrifying, if confirmed”.
The Commissioner vowed to address her concerns while travelling to the United States this week.
As reported by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), Britain’s parliamentary committee chair Damian Collins said Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, a British communications firm hired by Trump’s 2016 campaign, had questions to answer following what appears to be a giant data breach, carried out in an attempt to influence voters’ choices at the ballot box.
“We have repeatedly asked Facebook about how companies acquire and hold on to user data from their site, and in particular whether data had been taken from people without their consent,” Collins said in a statement.
“Their answers have consistently understated this risk, and have also been misleading to the committee.”
According to a joint investigation by The New York Times and Britain’s Observer, Cambridge Analytica was able to create psychological profiles on 50 million Facebook users through the use of a personality prediction app that was downloaded by 270,000 people, but also scooped up data from friends.
Cambridge Analytica said it was in touch with Facebook while denying any misuse of data.
Meanwhile, calls for investigations are being heard on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United States, there are calls for Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and other top executives to appear before Congress, along with the CEOs of Google and Twitter.
Members of the European Parliament are also calling for representatives from Cambridge Analytica and Facebook to come to Brussels to explain the allegations.
“If proven true, this may be the biggest example of unauthorised harvesting of data in Facebook’s history,” said S&D Group Vice-President for digital affairs, Josef Weidenholzer. “It would be outrageous that the data and information of Facebook users’ was obtained, without their permission, for political purposes, and under the pretext of academic research.”
He said representatives from Facebook must come to the European Parliament to explain what exactly occurred, what measures have been taken to ensure it will not happen again, and whether similar activities have occurred in the European Union. “We also want representatives from Cambridge Analytica to come and explain their activities to the Parliament.”
Weidenholzer also warned that Facebook should, under no circumstances, be used to manipulate voters for the sake of political electioneering.
“With the next European Elections approaching, we urgently need a conversation about the role social media plays in political discourse and we need to see what measures social media companies are taking to ensure fair and impartial debate.”