Allegations about the mass harvesting of Facebook users’ information are “very concerning”, Downing Street has said amid further allegations against data firm Cambridge Analytica (CA).
Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesman called on the social media giant and CA to co-operate fully with an investigation by Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.
Meanwhile, further details about the firm’s activities included claims the company offered to entrap politicians and used ex-spies to dig for dirt on potential targets.
An undercover investigation by Channel 4 recorded CA’s chief executive Alexander Nix suggesting ways he could help a potential client.
A reporter posing as a fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka met with Mr Nix and other senior figures from CA.
Asked about what “deep digging” could be done, Mr Nix told the reporter: “Oh, we do a lot more than that.
“I mean 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, you know, these sorts of tactics are very effective instantly having video evidence of corruption, putting it on the internet, these sorts of things.”
Mr Nix said they could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house”, adding that Ukrainian girls “are very beautiful, I find that works very well”, Channel 4 reported.
CA told the broadcaster: “We entirely refute any allegation that Cambridge Analytica or any of its affiliates use entrapment, bribes or so-called honeytraps for any purpose whatsoever.”
The firm added: “Cambridge Analytica does not use untrue material for any purpose.”
CA was suspended from Facebook last week after it emerged that data on millions of users had not been destroyed as agreed.
Whistleblower Chris Wylie, a former research director at the UK-based company, told Channel 4 News a so-called data grab had been carried out on more than 50 million profiles in 2014.
Reports in The Observer suggested that the information was used to target political advertising in the 2016 US presidential election – something denied by CA.
Damian Collins, chairman of the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, has called on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to appear before MPs to explain his company’s actions.
Asked about the reports, Mrs May’s spokesman said: “The allegations are clearly very concerning.
“It is essential that people can have confidence that their personal data will be protected and used in an appropriate way.
“It is absolutely right that the Information Commissioner is investigating this matter.
“We expect Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and all the organisations involved to co-operate fully.”
In a response to its suspension from Facebook, CA said it fully complied with Facebook’s terms of service.
In a statement it said that: “In 2014 we received Facebook data and derivatives of Facebook data from another company, GSR, that we engaged in good faith to legally supply data for research.
“After it subsequently became known that GSR had broken its contract with Cambridge Analytica because it had not adhered to data protection regulation, Cambridge Analytica deleted all the Facebook data and derivatives, in cooperation with Facebook.
“This Facebook data was not used by Cambridge Analytica as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump presidential campaign; personality targeted advertising was not carried out for this client either.”
Information Commissioner Ms Denham said she was applying for a warrant to investigate CA’s activities.
She said: “This is a complex and far-reaching investigation for my office and any criminal or civil enforcement actions arising from it will be pursued vigorously.”