Britain's top privacy watchdog was granted a warrant to search the offices of Cambridge Analytica in the wake of allegations that information on millions of Facebook's users was scooped up without their consent, widening a probe that has cut the internet giant's share price by more than 10 per cent this week.
The Information Commissioner's Office said Friday in a statement on Twitter that a judge had granted the warrant to search the London offices. The watchdog is leading the probe with the backing of the European Union's remaining 27 regulators, who earlier this week vowed to collaborate to get to the bottom of the "very serious allegation with far-reaching consequences."
"We're pleased with the decision of the judge and we plan to execute the warrant shortly," the regulator said in the statement. "This is just one part of a larger investigation into the use of personal data for political purposes and we will now need time to collect and consider the evidence."
Facebook has also come under pressure since the revelations that vast swathes of data was illegally held by Cambridge Analytica after it was obtained from a researcher who shared the data without the social network's permission.
According to published 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 apologised 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 per cent Friday to $159.39 at the close in New York, bringing the loss this week to almost 14 per cent since the revelations broke.
A movement called #DeleteFacebook is gathering momentum after Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla, 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.
Earlier Friday, Cambridge Analytica 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 US 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.
Understanding the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Story: QuickTake
It had already 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 apologised 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.