The UK’s data protection authority is seeking a warrant to access the servers of Cambridge Analytica after it emerged the data firm improperly used Facebook profiles to support political campaigns.
Cambridge Analytica allegedly gathered data from more than 50 million Facebook profiles to target voters in US President Donald Trump’s election campaign.
The political consultancy is also accused of using Facebook to influence the outcome of the Brexit vote.
Britain’s Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham accused Cambridge Analytica of being “un-cooperative” in her investigation and said she had applied for a warrant to search their offices on Tuesday.
The watchdog is also investigating whether Facebook responded strongly enough to the allegations.
“We are looking at whether or not Facebook secured and safeguarded personal information on the platform and whether when they found out about the loss of the data they acted robustly and whether or not people were informed,” Denham told BBC Radio.
Facebook is holding an open meeting with its employees on Tuesday to allow them to ask questions about the scandal, according to an internal calendar invitation seen by The Verge.
Investigation reveals Cambridge Analytica used bribes and sex scandals to swing elections
On Monday evening, Channel 4 News aired an undercover investigation by its reporters into Cambridge Analytica, which showed the shady tactics the company used to help clients.
Cambridge Analytica chief executive, Alexander Nix, was recorded by a reporter as saying the company had worked with former spies from Britain and Israel to find dirt on rival political candidates and use it as part of bribes.
“Deep digging is interesting, but you know equally effective can be just to go and speak to the incumbents and to offer them a deal that’s too good to be true and make sure that that’s video recorded,” he said over dinner at an exclusive hotel in London.
“You know these sort of tactics are very effective, instantly having video evidence of corruption.”
Nix also told the reporter that the company would create a sex scandal by hiring prostitutes to entrap rivals.
“Send some girls around to the candidate’s house, we have lots of history of things,” he said. “We could bring some Ukrainians in on holiday with us, you know what I’m saying.”
Cambridge Analytica refused Information Commissioner access to offices
Denham told Channel 4 News that she had asked Cambridge Analytica for access to their offices earlier this month and they had until Monday to respond. Since the company declined, she has applied to the courts for a warrant.
“We need to get in there. We need to look at the databases. We need to look at the servers and understand how data was processed or deleted by Cambridge Analytica.
“There are a lot of conflicting stories about the data,” she said.
Cambridge Analytica later accused Channel 4 News of trying to entrap its executives and denied using unethical practices.
Nix said in a statement that he was merely playing along with a “series of ludicrous hypothetical scenarios” after the reporter initiated a conversation about inappropriate corporate behaviour.
“I am aware how this looks … I deeply regret my role in the meeting and I have already apologised to staff. I should have recognised where the prospective client was taking our conversations and ended the relationship sooner.”
US and EU investigate allegations
Cambridge Analytica is also under scrutiny in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Donald Trump associates colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 US election. Both Trump and Moscow have denied the claims.
Meanwhile, European Union officials said they would investigate Facebook's handling of user data.
"Allegations of misuse of Facebook user data is an unacceptable violation of our citizens’ privacy rights. The European Parliament will investigate fully, calling digital platforms to account,” the parliament’s president, Antonio Tajani, said on his official Twitter account.