New details have emerged around what and how much Facebook knew about the massive Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal.
Court documents filed late Thursday in the U.S. reveal that Facebook employees had flagged Cambridge Analytica’s concerning ‘data-scraping practices’ as early as September 2015.
That’s a full three months before an article was published in The Guardian, describing how the now-defunct campaign research firm planned to use improperly collected user data to build profiles of U.S. voters and serve them targeted messages.
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Court documents filed late Thursday in the U.S. reveal that Facebook employees had flagged Cambridge Analytica’s concerning ‘data-scraping practices’ as early as September 2015
The revelation in December 2015 detailed how the data was being used to help boost Texas senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign.
Later on, Cambridge Analytica was discovered to be working with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as well.
Facebook has told lawmakers that it first became aware of the sharing of user data with Cambridge Analytica in December 2015.
However, the court document, filed by the attorney general for Washington DC in its consumer protection enforcement case, states otherwise.
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‘The jurisdictional facts in the Document show that as early as September 2015, a D.C.-based Facebook employee warned the company’ about Cambridge Analytica, the filing states.
Details of the filing were first spotted by The Guardian.
Facebook has said it first became aware of Cambridge Analytica’s data-sharing in December 2015. But a court document, filed by the Washington DC attorney general, says otherwise
Further details about the employee’s conversations with Facebook are unclear, as the document has been partially redacted.
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to the Guardian that employees knew about Cambridge Analytica’s data-scraping practices in September 2015, but added that it was separate from the widely reported incident wherein 87 million users had their information harvested and shared with Cambridge Analytica without their knowledge.
In that incident, Cambridge Analytica purchased the data from Cambridge University professor Aleksandr Kogan, who developed the ‘This Is Your Digital Life’ quiz app used by many users.
Kogan is now suing Facebook for defamation.
‘In September 2015 employees heard speculation that Cambridge Analytica was scraping data, something that is unfortunately common for any internet service,’ the spokesperson told the Guardian.
‘In December 2015, we first learned through media reports that Kogan sold data to Cambridge Analytica, and we took action. Those were two different things.’
Mark Zuckerberg confirmed under oath to Congress last April that he learned Kogan had sold the data to Cambridge Analytica when reporters contacted Facebook about it, i.e. December 2015.
Zuckerberg repeated those claims to the UK’s DCMS committee during hearings – a fact that, coupled with the claims made in the lawsuit, caught the eye of DCMS committee chair Damian Collins.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee after it was reported that some 87 million users had their info harvested by Cambridge Analytica
In response to a tweet questioning if Facebook executives committed perjury or if the firm is ‘catastrophically mismanaged,’ Collins said: ‘This important new information could suggest that Facebook has consistently mislead the @CommonsCMS about what it knew and when about Cambridge Analytica.’
Facebook has been fighting to have the DC attorney general’s lawsuit dismissed and sought to have the employee exchanges cited by the attorney general sealed.
The DC attorney general has pushed back on this, saying the document shouldn’t be sealed.
They added that it’s ‘an email exchange between Facebook employees discussing how Cambridge Analytica (and others) violated Facebook’s policies,’ the filing states.
‘Facebook’s concerns about the document are purely reputational,’ the filing explained.
‘Document contains candid employee assessments that multiple third-party applications accessed and sold consumer data in violation of Facebook’s policies during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.
‘It also indicates Facebook knew of Cambridge Analytica’s improper data-gathering practices months before news outlets reported on the issue,’ the filing continues.
Facebook and the District of Columbia are scheduled to appear in court on Friday.
WHAT IS THE CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA SCANDAL?
Communications firm Cambridge Analytica has offices in London, New York, Washington, as well as Brazil and Malaysia.
The company boasts it can ‘find your voters and move them to action’ through data-driven campaigns and a team that includes data scientists and behavioural psychologists.
‘Within the United States alone, we have played a pivotal role in winning presidential races as well as congressional and state elections,’ with data on more than 230 million American voters, Cambridge Analytica claims on its website.
The company profited from a feature that meant apps could ask for permission to access your own data as well as the data of all your Facebook friends.
The data firm suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix (pictured), after recordings emerged of him making a series of controversial claims, including boasts that Cambridge Analytica had a pivotal role in the election of Donald Trump
This meant the company was able to mine the information of 87 million Facebook users even though just 270,000 people gave them permission to do so.
This was designed to help them create software that can predict and influence voters’ choices at the ballot box.
The data firm suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix, after recordings emerged of him making a series of controversial claims, including boasts that Cambridge Analytica had a pivotal role in the election of Donald Trump.
This information is said to have been used to help the Brexit campaign in the UK.
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