DENVER – The Facebook data of 136,000 Coloradans obtained by British data firm Cambridge Analytica is still floating around despite claims it was destroyed, according to a Wednesday report from U.K.-based Channel 4 News. But the man who was in charge of the Colorado group that used the firm during the 2014 election says neither he nor the group possesses the data.
Channel 4 News says its reporters had reviewed the data, which its report said came from a Cambridge Analytica source. The report says the data confirms details on the thousands of Colorado residents affected, as well as “each person’s personality and psychological profile.”
The reporter who presented the story spoke with several Colorado residents whose data was contained within the list, which was in possession of Channel 4’s source, according to a Channel 4 employee who agreed to speak with Scripps station KMGH in Denver about the story on the condition they not be named.
“The data is also known to have been passed around using generic, non-corporate email systems, outside of the servers of Cambridge Analytica, and linked company SCL,” the report states.
The Channel 4 employee says the data appears to have been widely shared in the past.
Channel 4 verified that the 2014 data it reviewed is authentic and came, in part, from a Cambridge University researcher, Dr. Aleksandr Kogan. Kogan built an app in which he used the data in accordance with Facebook’s rules at the time, but he originally said he was using the data only for academic purposes before teaming up with Cambridge Analytica. Facebook claims that by additionally using it for political purposes, Cambridge Analytica violated the social networking site's terms of service.
Both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica claimed that the British data firm deleted the data in 2015, but the Channel 4 report calls that claim into question.
A Cambridge spokesperson told Channel 4 that it “deleted all GSR data and took appropriate steps to ensure that any copies of the data were deleted…It is untrue that we failed to take appropriate measures to ensure that GSR data were deleted.”
Facebook has since launched an investigation to determine whether or not Cambridge indeed deleted the data and has suspended the company. The Channel 4 employee KMGH spoke with said Colorado was one of 11 U.S. states Cambridge Analytica scraped data from in attempts to profile prospective voters.
Former Senate Majority Fund leader says Cambridge kept data closely guarded
KMGH reported over the past week and a half that the Republican-backed Senate Majority Fund used two Colorado political nonprofits, Concerned Citizens for Colorado and Centennial Coalition, to pay Cambridge Analytica about $460,000 total in 2014 and 2015 for various political consulting and campaign materials. Republicans were successful in regaining the majority of the state Senate in 2014, when most of the spending on Cambridge Analytica took place.
Colorado Democratic Party Chair Morgan Carroll on Wednesday called for Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman to investigate Cambridge Analytica’s role in the state’s 2014 elections, suggesting Colorado was “the guinea pig” in the company’s “experiment” involving U.S. elections.
Coffman responded by saying her office was looking into Cambridge Analytica and other third-party organizations to see if Colorado laws were violated, and said she was working to pass a bill relating to data privacy in the state’s General Assembly.
After the Channel 4 report came out Wednesday, Andy George, who ran the Senate Majority Fund when it used Cambridge Analytica, told KMGH that neither he, nor anyone on his team, had access to the Cambridge Analytica data.
“They were very secretive and guarded when it came to their database,” George said. “It is one of the reasons we were skeptical of their product to begin with.”
He also questioned who in Colorado, or elsewhere, might be in possession of the data if Cambridge Analytica claims it deleted the data and if no one connected to the Senate Majority Fund had access.
“Since they never gave anyone on our team access to their database, I’m not sure how any data could still be out there,” George said.
George previously told KMGH the fund wouldn’t have worked with Cambridge Analytica had it known the data it was using was questionably obtained, and told The Denver Post “their pitch was better than their performance.”
But the internal company documents previously published by KMGH showed Cambridge believed its products and services “made a substantial contribution” to the election; that the company produced dozens of mailers for Senate GOP candidates; and that it made “446 lists of voters generated for targeted communications.”
Cambridge said it was successful in helping the Senate Majority Fund flip three of the five seats they targeted to help Republicans regain the Senate that year.
“Overall this a very positive result, and one of the victories gave the GOP control over the Colorado State Senate,” the internal documents said.
Still, George maintained Wednesday that Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, SCL, was taking more credit than was due. And he took a shot at Carroll, too.
“As much as SCL would like to take credit for the Senate Republicans’ victories in 2014, I think more credit should be given to Morgan Carroll for helping draw politically motivated maps that ousted an incumbent Democrat and gave us the opportunity to win the majority.”