Cambridge Analytica, the firm that harvested private information from millions of Facebook users in order to sway voters, used various tricks to entrap the rivals of their clients, reports in the U.K. revealed.
Britain's Channel 4 News secretly taped executives from the company admitting that they used British and Israeli spies, honey traps and fake news campaigns to help their clients – among which was Donald Trump's presidential campaign - and bring down their competitors.
“It sounds a dreadful thing to say, but these are things that don’t necessarily need to be true as long as they’re believed,” Cambridge Analytica's CEO Alexander Nix is recorded as saying in one exchange, describing the types of tricks employed by the firm.
"We use some British companies, we use some Israeli companies," Nix was quoted as saying by British media. "From Israel. Very effective in intelligence gathering."
According to The Guardian, Nix offered details regarding the services provided by the former spies: “We have two projects at the moment, which involve doing deep deep depth research on the opposition and providing source ... really damaging source material, that we can decide how to deploy in the course of the campaign.”
The New York Times and The Observer of London reported over the weekend that Cambridge Analytica exploited information from over 50 million Facebook users as it was developing techniques to support President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign. The newspapers reported that the data breach was one of the largest in the history of Facebook.
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Cambridge Analytica has ties to both former Trump chief counselor Steve Bannon and Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale. Facebook suspended the company on Friday after finding that it had violated its data privacy policies, preventing it from buying ads or administer client pages.
According to The Guardian, the recordings were made when the executives met with an undercover reporter posing as a representative of a wealthy Sri Lankan family that was seeking to gain political clout. Initially they denied that Cambridge Analytica used entrapment techniques, but later boasted about using bribes, digging up "damaging materials" and "creating a sex scandal."
They also used Ukranian sex workers to try and entrap politicians, the report said.
Facebook said on Monday it had hired digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg to carry out a comprehensive audit of Cambridge Analytica, which had agreed to comply and give the forensics firm complete access to their servers and systems.
Cambridge Analytica said it strongly denies the media claims, and that it deleted all Facebook data it obtained from a third-party app in 2014 after learning the information did not adhere to data protection rules.
Facebook said on Friday it had learned in 2015 that a Cambridge University psychology professor lied to the company and violated its policies by passing data to Cambridge Analytica from a psychology testing app he had built.
Facebook said it suspended the firms and researchers involved. It also said the data had been misused but not stolen, because users gave permission.
Reuters contributed background to this report