Timeline of Facebook, Cambridge Analytica scandal

Pedestrians pass the building that houses the offices of Cambridge Analytica in London on March 20, 2018.
Pedestrians pass the building that houses the offices of Cambridge Analytica in London on March 20, 2018.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

As with all unfolding crises, more revelations are coming out after media reports broke an expose about how London-based data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users in developing techniques to support US President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign, sparking fresh outcry over data privacy violations at the world's largest social media network.

Here is a timeline of the story so far.

MARCH 16

Social media giant Facebook knew ahead of time that on Saturday, the New York Times and The Guardian's Observer would issue bombshell reports to expose a data leak concerning tens of millions of its users.

In a bid to protect itself, Facebook proceeded to send letters to the media firms laying out its legal case for why this data leak did not constitute a "breach", and in a blog post, it scooped the reports using their information, saying why it was suspending Cambridge Analytica from its site.

MARCH 17

The two newspapers broke reports on how Cambridge Analytica played a role in harvesting and misusing private and personal information from more than 50 million Facebook users, adding that the data breach was one of the largest in the history of Facebook.

They quoted whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who helped set up the firm and worked with an academic Aleksandr Kogan at Cambridge University to obtain the data, as saying the system could profile individual voters to target them with personalised political ads.

MARCH 18

US and British lawmakers demanded that Facebook explain how the firm was able to harvest personal information without the social network's alerting users. US senators also called on Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress.

Attorneys-general from the US states of Massachusetts and Connecticut launch investigations into how the Facebook data was handled, and the UK Information Commissioner's Office is also pursuing a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica's office in London.

MARCH 19

Britain's Channel 4 News reports that, based on secretly recorded video, Cambridge Analytica secretly stage-managed Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta's campaigns in the hotly contested 2013 and 2017 elections. The firm proceeded to deny the report.

Facebook's chief of security Alex Stamos announced that his role has shifted to focusing on emerging risks and election security at the global social network after the New York Times reported he was leaving Facebook in the wake of internal clashes over how to deal with Russian actors using the platform to spread false or exaggerated stories to cause division among US voters.

MARCH 20

The BBC reported that the head of the European Parliament said it would investigate to see if the data was misused, and a spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was "very concerned" about the revelations.

Cambridge Analytica suspends its chief executive Alexander Nix after broadcaster Channel 4 aired a second undercover video in which he claims the firm's online campaign played a decisive role in Trump's 2016 election victory.

Malaysia's ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) becomes embroiled in the scandal as the opposition questioned Prime Minister Najib Razak's role in using the big data firm to score wins in the country's 2013 polls. But the administration has denied employing the firm, and said any services were provided personally to former BN leader turned opposition politician Mukhriz Mahathir.

Shareholders sued Facebook in San Francisco federal court in a class action, saying that they suffered losses after the data privacy violations disclosure.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) opens an investigation into whether Facebook violated an 2011 consent decree with the agency on data privacy.

A lawyer for Christopher Wylie confirms that he plans to accept an invitation from the US House Intelligence Committee Democrats to give an interview, as part of their effort to continue to investigate Russian interference in the election, including possible ties to the Trump campaign.

Facebook take steps to prevent what it calls fake news during Mexico's presidential campaign. It placed full-page ads in prominent Mexican newspapers, including El Financiero, under the title "Tips To Detect Fake News".

Cambridge University psychology academic Aleksandr Kogan appears in a CNN interview and says he had been made a scapegoat by Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, and that the accuracy of the dataset had been exaggerated and was more likely to hurt Trump's campaign.

MARCH 21

Fears of increased regulation over social media firms triggered market sell-off of technology stocks like Facebook, Snap and Twitter.

Facebook's shares tumbled more than 9 per cent in the past week, losing US$60 billion (S$79 billion) of its stock market value since the scandal broke.

SOURCES: REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, BBC