NSA whistleblower and former CIA employee Edward Snowden slammed Facebook in a Saturday tweet following the suspension of Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) and its political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, over what Facebook says was imporoper use of collected data.
In a nutshell, in 2015 Cambridge Analytica bought data from a University of Cambridge psychology professor, Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, who had developed an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” that vacuumed up loads of information on users and their contacts. After making Kogan and Cambridge Analytica promise to delete the data the app had gathered, Facebook received reports (from sources they would not identify) which claimed that not all the data had been deleted – which led the social media giant to delete Cambridge Analytica and parent company SCL’s accounts.
“By passing information on to a third party, including SCL/Cambridge Analytica and Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, he violated our platform policies. When we learned of this violation in 2015, we removed his app from Facebook and demanded certifications from Kogan and all parties he had given data to that the information had been destroyed. Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Wylie all certified to us that they destroyed the data.” -Facebook
Of note, Cambridge Analytica worked for Ted Cruz and Ben Carson during the 2016 election before contracting with the Trump campaign. Cruz stopped using CA after their data modeling failed to identify likely supporters.
Cambridge Analytica has vehemently denied any wrongdoing in a statement.
In response to the ban, Edward Snowden fired off two tweets on Saturday criticizing Facebook, and claimed social media companies were simply “surveillance companies” who engaged in a “successful deception” by rebranding themselves.
Snowden isn’t the first big name to call out Silicon Valley companies over their data collection and monitoring practices, or their notorious intersection with the U.S. Government.
In his 2014 book: When Google Met WikiLeaks, Julian Assange describes Google’s close relationship with the NSA and the Pentagon.
Around the same time, Google was becoming involved in a program known as the “Enduring Security Framework” (ESF), which entailed the sharing of information between Silicon Valley tech companies and Pentagon-affiliated agencies “at network speed.” Emails obtained in 2014 under Freedom of Information requests show Schmidt and his fellow Googler Sergey Brin corresponding on first-name terms with NSA chief General Keith Alexander about ESF Reportage on the emails focused on the familiarity in the correspondence: “General Keith . . . so great to see you . . . !” Schmidt wrote. But most reports overlooked a crucial detail. “Your insights as a key member of the Defense Industrial Base,” Alexander wrote to Brin, “are valuable to ensure ESF’s efforts have measurable impact.” –Julian Assange
Kim Dotcom has also opined on social media’s close ties to the government, tweeting in February “Unfortunately all big US Internet companies are in bed with the deep state. Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. are all providing backdoors to your data.”
In 2013, the Washington Post and The Guardian revealed that the NSA has backdoor access to all major Silicon Valley social media firms, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple – all through the notorious PRISM program which began in 2007 under the Protect America Act. PRISM’s existence was leaked by Edward Snowden before he entered into ongoing asylum in Moscow. Microsoft was the first company to join the PRISM program.
The NSA has the ability to pull any sort of data it likes from these companies, but it claims that it does not try to collect it all. The PRISM program goes above and beyond the existing laws that state companies must comply with government requests for data, as it gives the NSA direct access to each company’s servers — essentially letting the NSA do as it pleases. –The Verge
After PRISM’s existence was leaked by Snowden, the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement which stated that the only people targeted by the programs are “outside the United States,” and that the program “does not allow” the targeting of citizens within US borders.
In 2006, Wired magazine published evidence from a retired AT&T communications technician, Mark Klein, that revealed a secret room used to “split” internet data at a San Francisco office as part of the NSA’s bulk data collection techniques used on millions of Americans.