Faced with intense scrutiny by UK regulators, Cambridge Analytica morphed into a new company named Emerdata this week. Lost amid news of the firm's shutdown-that-isn't: A report that Twitter sold user data to a Cambridge Analytica researcher.
On Monday, Bloomberg reported that Twitter sold large-scale data access to Aleksandr Kogan, the academic who developed a personality quiz that Cambridge Analytica used to improperly access the private data of 87 million Facebook users. Kogan's company Global Science Research (GSR) made the purchase in 2015, when it was granted one day of access to five months of tweets.
"In 2015, GSR did have one-time API access to a random sample of public tweets from a five-month period from December 2014 to April 2015," Twitter said in a statement. "Based on the recent reports, we conducted our own internal review and did not find any access to private data about people who use Twitter."
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Twitter provided no details on the precise type of data GSR accessed. It is likewise unclear what GSR used the data for, or where it exists now.
But at least one Twitter user gleaned an ominous pattern. "Twitter gave these assholes access to tweets from December 2014 through April 2015 (Which, funnily enough, corresponds pretty neatly with the period immediately prior to when Twitter became hyper-toxic and overrun with trolls and bots)," tweeted political writer Leah McElrath, who has 100,000 followers.
Twitter allows some companies, developers and users to access public data through its API, or software that requests and provides information. The company also sells public data to organizations that use it analyze events, trends and sentiments. Twitter says it does not sell direct-messaging data.
Like Facebook, Twitter has come under fire for being slow to respond to foreign bad actors who used the platform to disseminate fake news and propaganda in attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. But this is the first report that the platform sold user data to a concern linked to those attempts.