Twit­ter em­broiled in Cam­bridge data scan­dal

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Front page - By Margi Mur­phy

TWIT­TER sold data to the Cam­bridge Univer­sity aca­demic who har­vested mil­lions of Face­book users’ in­for­ma­tion with­out their knowl­edge, The Sun­day Tele­graph can re­veal. Alek­sandr Ko­gan, who cre­ated tools that al­lowed a po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tancy to psy­cho­log­i­cally pro­file and tar­get vot­ers, bought the data from the mi­croblog­ging web­site in 2015, be­fore the re­cent scan­dal came to light.

Dr 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 com­pany Global Science Re­search (GSR).

He has been cen­tral to the pri­vacy row sur­round­ing Face­book since it emerged that GSR’S per­son­al­ity quiz was used to col­lect pri­vate data from 87m un­sus­pect­ing users for SCL, the par­ent com­pany of Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, which al­legedly used the data in the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Twit­ter said it had banned GSR and Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica from buy­ing data or run­ning ad­verts on the web­site and that no pri­vate data had been ac­cessed.

Dr Ko­gan, mean­while, in­sisted the data had only been used to cre­ate “brand re­ports” and “sur­vey ex­ten­der tools” and that he had not vi­o­lated Twit­ter’s poli­cies. While most tweets are pub­lic, Twit­ter charges com­pa­nies and or­gan­i­sa­tions to col­lect them en masse. Large datasets are par­tic­u­larly use­ful for glean­ing 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.

In 2017 data sales made up $333m (£242m) of Twit­ter’s rev­enue, some 13pc of its to­tal sales.

A Twit­ter spokesman con­firmed the ban and 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.

“Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica may re­main an or­ganic user on our plat­form, in ac­cor­dance with the Twit­ter Rules.”

The com­pany said it does not al­low “in­fer­ring or de­riv­ing sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion like race or po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion, or at­tempts to match a user’s Twit­ter in­for­ma­tion with other per­sonal iden­ti­fiers” and that it had staff in place to po­lice this “rig­or­ously”.

A Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica spokesman 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’.”

Dr Ko­gan told the Depart­ment for Dig­i­tal, Cul­ture, Me­dia & Sport last week his com­pany GSR was cre­ated in 2014 purely to cre­ate datasets for SCL.

Dr Alek­sandr Ko­gan, of Global Science Re­search, bought tweets, user­names and lo­ca­tion data from Twit­ter

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