The verified Twitter Inc. page of Cambridge Analytica, displaying their logo and company name, sit on an Apple Inc. iPhone against a backdrop of the Facebook Inc. sign shown on a computer screen in this arranged photograph in London, U.K. (Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg)

U.K. Assessing Evidence After Search at Cambridge Analytica

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K.’s privacy watchdog searched the offices of Cambridge Analytica amid allegations that information on millions of Facebook Inc.’s users was scooped up without their consent, widening a probe that cut the internet giant’s share price more than 10 percent this week.

The Information Commissioner’s Office said the search began late Friday, after a judge granted a request for a warrant, and continued for about seven hours. Investigators left Cambridge Analytica’s London office about 3 a.m. Saturday.

“We will now need to assess and consider the evidence before deciding the next steps and coming to any conclusions,” according to a statement. “This is one part of a larger investigation by the ICO into the use of personal data and analytics by political campaigns, parties, social media companies and other commercial actors."

The watchdog is leading the probe with the backing of the European Union’s remaining 27 regulators, who this week vowed to collaborate to get to the bottom of the “very serious allegation with far-reaching consequences.”

U.K. Assessing Evidence After Search at Cambridge Analytica

Facebook has also come under pressure since the revelations that vast swathes of data was held by Cambridge Analytica after it was obtained from a researcher who shared the data without the social network’s permission. According to news reports, Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan created a personality-analysis app that was used by 270,000 Facebook users, who in turn gave the app permission to access data on themselves and their friends, ultimately exposing a network of 50 million people.

Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg apologized Wednesday and promised to investigate whether Cambridge Analytica still holds the information it obtained from a third-party app creator and to broaden the probe to other developers who harvest data. Lawmakers in the U.S. have also called on Zuckerberg to testify about how Facebook safeguards user data.

The company’s shares fell 3.3 percent Friday to $159.39 at the close in New York, bringing the loss this week to almost 14 percent since the revelations broke. A movement called #DeleteFacebook is gathering momentum after Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., joined those who want to get rid of their Facebook accounts. Musk tweeted on Friday that Tesla’s official Facebook page should “definitely’ be deleted, and it promptly was, along with the page of his rocket company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

Calls to Cambridge Analytica’s offices in London, Washington and New York weren’t answered on Saturday.

On Friday, the company said it’s undertaking an independent third-party audit to verify that it does not hold any of the data. The company worked for Donald Trump’s 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Trump’s former adviser Stephen K. Bannon served as an executive and board member and major Republican donor Robert Mercer’s family owns part of the company.

U.K. Assessing Evidence After Search at Cambridge Analytica

It suspended its chief executive officer, Alexander Nix, this week after he was filmed bragging about dirty tricks the firm used to obtain information. He retains a large ownership stake in Cambridge Analytica’s affiliated companies, and many of its top executives share his history of questionable campaign techniques.

Cambridge Analytica apologized that one of its affiliates licensed Facebook data and derivatives from Global Science Research, and said it believed data had been obtained in line with Facebook’s terms of service and data protection laws.

It said the information was deleted at Facebook’s request, and that it has been in touch with the U.K. ICO since February 2017.

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