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Facebook and the NSA face-off

In 2016, voters may have had their personal information acquired through Facebook. Christopher Wylie, a former employee at Cambridge Analytica, is a whistleblower who alleges that his former employer obtained personal information of 50 million Facebook users and used the data in then-candidate Donald Trump’s election campaign according to CNBC.

Cambridge Analytica is a British consulting firm that mines for data, analyzes the data and utilizes the information for strategic communication in elections. Anyone with the appropriate software can download the non-private data (wall posts, photos) of any Facebook user, however, obtaining the private data (messages, contact information) of other users is illegal.

The firm is denying they used the Facebook data for the Trump campaign. Allegedly, they obtained the voters’ information through a psychology test quiz and the users “likes” on Facebook.

No user’s passwords were released, but their location was available to Cambridge.

Wylie testified before British lawmakers and said the strategy’s intent was to target voters with election material of a specific candidate. He also said Brexit was swung in favor of the “Leave” vote due to Cambridge Analytica.

Wylie also speculated that Facebook and other apps have the ability to listen to people through the microphone on cell phones for advertising purposes. He did not say they were transposing conversations verbatim, but it was contextually driven.

“It’s not natural language processing. That would be hard to scale. But to understand the environmental context of where you are to improve the contextual value of the ad,” Wylie said.

Wylie continued his testimony by saying Canadian company AggregateIQ designed a software to identify Republican voters in the 2016 election.

In a tweet on March 27, Cambridge Analytica said, “Christopher Wylie was a part-time contractor who left in July 2014 and has no direct knowledge of our work or practices since that date.”

Despite initially stating they did not have the information, Cambridge Analytica said they obtained the information legally and all the data had been deleted. But copies of the data may still exist.

  Cambridge Analytica CEO, Alexander Nix, has been suspended in light of the scandal. No date has been set for his return.

At Facebook, an internal memo leaked from 2016 indicates Facebook might have deprioritized security for the sake of connectivity. The memo came from Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook vice president.

“Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools. And still we connect people. The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good,”  the memo read. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has disavowed the memo.

“I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Zuckerberg in a statement on Facebook.

He will testify before Congress in April regarding the scandal.

Since the scandal, Facebook has lost $50 billion in stock market value, and the #DeleteFacebook movement gained traction.