The U.K.’s privacy watchdog searched the London offices of Cambridge Analytica in the wake of allegations that information on millions of Facebook Inc.’s users was scooped up without their consent, widening a probe that cut the internet giant’s share price by more than 10 percent this week.
The Information Commissioner’s Office said the search that began late Friday ended about 3 a.m. Saturday, and in a tweet said it’s “assessing evidence before deciding next steps.” The watchdog is leading the probe with the backing of the European Union’s remaining 27 regulators, who this week vowed to collaborate to get to the bottom of the “very serious allegation with far-reaching consequences.”
“This is just one part of a larger investigation into the use of personal data for political purposes,” the office said in a statement after a judge granted the request for a warrant.
Facebook has also come under pressure since the revelations that vast swathes of data was held by Cambridge Analytica after it was obtained from a researcher who shared the data without the social network’s permission. According to news reports, Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan created a personality-analysis app that was used by 270,000 Facebook users, who in turn gave the app permission to access data on themselves and their friends, ultimately exposing a network of 50 million people.
Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg apologized Wednesday and promised to investigate whether Cambridge Analytica still holds the information it obtained from a third-party app creator and to broaden the probe to other developers who harvest data. Lawmakers in the U.S. have also called on Zuckerberg to testify about how Facebook safeguards user data.
The company’s shares fell 3.3 percent Friday to $159.39 at the close in New York, bringing the loss this week to almost 14 percent since the revelations broke. A movement called #DeleteFacebook is gathering momentum after Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., joined those who want to get rid of their Facebook accounts. Musk tweeted on Friday that Tesla’s official Facebook page should “definitely’ be deleted, and it promptly was, along with the page of his rocket company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp.
Earlier Friday, Cambridge Analytica said it’s undertaking an independent third-party audit to verify that it does not hold any of the data. The company worked for Donald Trump’s 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Trump’s former adviser Stephen K. Bannon served as an executive and board member and major Republican donor Robert Mercer’s family owns part of the company.
Understanding the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Story: QuickTake
It suspended its chief executive officer, Alexander Nix, this week after he was filmed bragging about dirty tricks the firm used to obtain information. He retains a large ownership stake in Cambridge Analytica’s affiliated companies, and many of its top executives share his history of questionable campaign techniques.
Cambridge Analytica apologized that one of its affiliates licensed Facebook data and derivatives from Global Science Research, and said it believed data had been obtained in line with Facebook’s terms of service and data protection laws.
It said the information was deleted at Facebook’s request, and that it has been in touch with the U.K. ICO since February 2017.