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Photo: Jaap Arriens / NurPhoto via Getty Images

The data firm Cambridge Analytica, which worked with the Trump campaign leading up to the 2016 election, used personal information from 50 million Facebook profiles of U.S. voters to build a system to predict and influence choices at the polls, according to investigations from The New York Times and The Observer newspaper in Britain.

Why it matters: This is reportedly one of the largest instances ever of Facebook data being exposed. The social media giant, which is already grappling with mounting criticism over the dissemination of fake news and Russian propaganda to influence the 2016 presidential election on its platform, will certainly face more scrutiny.

The backdrop: The reports on Saturday comes after Facebook announced Friday that it has suspended Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) and its affiliate Cambridge Analytica for "violating our platform policies."

The details: The data firm reportedly paid a University of Cambridge professor to acquire the personal information via a Facebook app. The social giant told the Times that the professor, Aleksandr Kogan, claimed to be collecting it for academic reasons. The Times said Facebook downplayed the leak when it sought comment for the story this week.

  • Cambridge Analytica's chief executive Alexander Nix, and other officials, had denied obtaining or using Facebook data. The company acknowledged in a statement that it obtained Facebook data though it blamed the professor for violating the platform's rules.
  • The Times reported that Facebook has not fully re-taken control of the data, and reported that an ex-employee claimed to have seen hundreds of unencrypted gigabytes on Cambridge servers. Cambridge Analytica said in its statement that it "deleted all data received from" from the company run by the academic.
  • "No data from [the company run by Kogan] was used by Cambridge Analytica as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign," the company said.

What they're saying: Facebook executives deny the incident represents a data breach. “Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do, and we require the same from people who operate apps on Facebook," Facebook deputy general counsel Paul Grewal said in a statement. "If these reports are true, it's a serious abuse of our rules. All parties involved — including the SCL Group/Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie and Aleksandr Kogan -- certified to us that they destroyed the data in question. "

  • Amid reports that the data is not destroyed, Grewal said Facebook is suspending the three parties from Facebook, pending further information. The company will also "take whatever steps" to ensure the data is deleted.

Meanwhile in London, the firm is being probed by the Parliament and government regulators for possible data privacy violations and allegations that it helped influence the Brexit campaign.

Go deeper: The N.Y. Times investigation

Go deeper

Updated 54 mins ago - Sports

Japan's Naomi Osaka lights Olympic cauldron, kicking off Tokyo Games

Naomi Osaka lights the Olympic cauldron. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

After a year-long delay, the Olympics finally got underway Friday as tennis star Naomi Osaka, who is competing for Japan, lit the cauldron, formally kicking off the Tokyo Games.

The big picture: Friday's opening ceremony looked, like many things over the last year, different than normal — multicolored seats replaced cheering fans, masks were a central part of the athletes' uniforms and a subdued, somber tone marked the occasion.

2 hours ago - World

China sanctions Wilbur Ross, 5 other Americans over Hong Kong warnings

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Chinese government imposed sanctions on Monday against six Americans, including former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in response to an advisory from the Biden administration warning businesses of the increased risks of operating in Hong Kong.

Why it matters: It's the latest example of China responding furiously to U.S. attempts to shed light on human rights abuses in places like Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet, which Chinese officials routinely condemn as "interference" in domestic affairs.

3 hours ago - Sports

Cleveland Indians change name to "Guardians"

The Cleveland Indians baseball team announced Friday that it will change its name to the "Guardians," following years of activism and protests against a moniker considered offensive by many Native Americans.

Why it matters: It's the first time the team will change its name since 1915, a move that comes in the wake of the nationwide racial reckoning that began with the murder of George Floyd.