The scandal surrounding Cambridge Analytica’s use and analysis of Facebook users’ personal information without permission has taken an intriguing turn, just as the social media giant’s CEO confirmed that the company failed to establish any connection between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
Cambridge Analytica parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) was used by the Ukrainian government for “localized communications campaigns” to assist Kiev’s efforts to try to win back control of eastern Ukraine’s breakaway Donbass region, a detailed investigation by British TV broadcaster Channel 4 has revealed.
“The final project report was delivered to the President of Ukraine…this report was pivotal in later national decisions,” the company said.
Collecting and analyzing data about users from the Donetsk region, the company helped to craft and implement a communications campaign to try to weaken the coherence of the self-proclaimed republic. Eventually, however, analysts came to the conclusion that support for Kiev in the breakaway was extremely low.
Before that, SCL boasted about its efforts as part of a “multi-national consultation team” to secure the victory of the first Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004. In that situation, the company said it used “modern research and efficient campaign intervention techniques” to help ensure the election victory of pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko.
In related news, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told Wired magazine in an interview published Wednesday that the social media giant could not confirm a connection between Internet Research Agency, a Russian company accused of meddling in the 2016 US election, and Cambridge Analytica.
“You know, we’ve certainly looked into the IRA’s ad spending and use in a lot of detail. The data that [Aleksandr] Kogan’s app got, it wasn’t watermarked in any way. And if he passed along data to Cambridge Analytica that was some kind of derivative data based on personality scores or something, we wouldn’t have known that, or seen that data,” Zuckerberg said.
Last week, the New York Times reported that Cambridge Analytica had illegally received the data of upwards of 50 million Facebook users. The company was accused of having purchased the data from a company called Global Science Research, creators of an app called thisisyourdigitallife, developed by Cambridge psychologist Aleksandr Kogan. The collected data provided researchers with information about peoples’ political preferences, and is thought to have since been used to target ads for campaigns including Brexit and the 2016 US presidential campaign.
Cambridge Analytica, formed in 2013, has participated in at least 200 election campaigns across five continents, with its SCL parent company involved in similar operations going back to the 1990s.