Blumenthal and Moran Seek Answers on Link Between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Subcommitte on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security, wrote Dr. Aleksandr Kogan today seeking additional information about how the personal data of 50 million Facebook users was transmitted to Cambridge Analytica.

Dr. Kogan developed a Facebook application, “thisisyourdigitallife,” that reportedly gathered information on tens of millions of users – including at least 30 million Americans – that was later shared with the political analytics company Cambridge Analytica. Kogan has said that he acted in accordance with Facebook’s policy regarding data sharing and that he is willing to provide information to Congress. Today’s letter calls on Dr. Kogan to provide an explanation about how the personal data of 50 million Facebook users was obtained and used.

The full text of today’s letter is available here and copied below.

 

March 22, 2018

 

Dr. Aleksandr Kogan

University of Cambridge

Department of Psychology

Downing Street

Cambridge, UK CB2 3EB

 

Dear Dr. Kogan,

We write regarding your involvement in the reported collection of personal data from tens of millions of Americans on behalf of the political analytics company Cambridge Analytica.  As the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee of Commerce, Science, and Transportation responsible for consumer protection and data security, we seek information regarding the allegations that this data may have been improperly obtained.

According to media reports and public records, in May 2014, you cofounded the company Global Science Research (GSR) to contract with Strategic Communication Laboratories and its subsidiary Cambridge Analytica (“SCL Group”) to collect personal data for psychological profiling.[1] This data was gathered through at least one Facebook application, named your ‘thisisyourdigitallife,’ which was designed to collect user data for those consumers who installed the application and their Facebook friends. Over the course of the life of the application, it reportedly obtained information from 50 million Facebook users based on only 270,000 users installing the application.

There have been conflicting accounts from involved parties that aim to assign accountability based on the level of understanding regarding the application that was allegedly used for this deceptive data collection.  The Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security is responsible for oversight on consumer protection and data privacy issues affecting American consumers, and clarity on the relevant details is critical.

To assist the Subcommittee in oversight of this matter, please provide responses to the following requests:

  1. Describe the types of data you or SCL Group gained access to through the users of the “thisisyourdigitallife” application and their Facebook “friends.” Would any of this data not have been visible on users’ profiles?
  2. Did you or SCL Group share the Facebook user data it obtained through the “thisisyourdigitallife” application with any other entities? 
  3. To the best of your knowledge, are you or SCL Group affiliated with any other applications that collect Facebook user information?
  4. Please provide a copy of the terms and conditions of the “thisisyourdigitallife” application along with any technical information related to its data retention policies.

Please provide your written responses and any other relevant information by no later than March 30, 2018. Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.


[1] Thomas, Josh, “University says it has ‘no connection’ with Cambridge Analytica as lecturer caught up in data scandal,” The Cambridge News, March 18, 2018, https://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/cambridge-news/cambridge-university-analytica-facebook-data-14427387 (accessed March 21, 2018).