Facebook Was Concerned About Cambridge Analytica 4 Years Ago, Internal Emails Show

Credit
Luke MacGregor  Bloomberg

Credit Luke MacGregor Bloomberg

Facebook was concerned Cambridge Analytica was possibly misusing data from the social network in September 2015, roughly three months before the consultancy was found to have improperly acquired user data for a U.S. presidential campaign, internal emails released Friday show. "According to the conversations this document contains, Facebook employees were raising alarms about political partners and doubts about their compliance with Facebook's data policies as far back as September 2015". Facebook did not admit or deny the SEC's allegations as part of its settlement. Cambridge Analytica went on to work for Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. Facebook was initially concerned about Cambridge Analytica's potential use of "scraping", a method of pulling online data. At that point, the topic was flagged as "hi pri" [high priority].

Cambridge Analytica is first identified by name - when it's described by a Facebook employee as "a sketchy (to say the least) data modelling company that has penetrated our market deeply" - on September 22, 2015, per this email thread.

On December 11 another Facebook staffer writes to ask for an expedited review of Cambridge Analytica - saying it's "unfortunately... now a PR issue", i.e.as a result of the Guardian publishing its article.

New documents revealed as part of a United States government lawsuit show that some Facebook staff had raised concerns about the data collection practices of Cambridge Analytica well before these were made public.

However, when reporting on these events in March, The Guardian suggested that the timeline has been "complicated for a long time because of the different corporate entities involved in Cambridge Analytica's data misuse". "If we had more resources we could discuss a call with the companies to get a better understanding, but we should only explore that path if we do see red flags".

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According to Facebook, the first indication of Kogan's involvement didn't come until December 2015, three months later.

Discussion on the thread lagged after that message and focused on other political consultancies until 11 December 2015, when the exposé was published.

"Please let us know if you need any more information, Thanks in advance!" This story just ran in the Guardian and is now prompting other media requests. Mark Zuckerberg has testified that Facebook learned from The Guardian report that developer Aleksandr Kogan sold user data to Cambridge Analytica, a violation of Facebook's policy prohibiting researchers from selling or sharing data with third parties.

In the emails, Facebook employees discussed for months how they would look into Cambridge Analytica's practices.

The internal communications were released by Facebook after it reached a court agreement to unseal the document with the attorney general of the District of Columbia, Karl Racine, who is suing the company over the Cambridge Analytica scandal. "We've learned many lessons that will help us become a stronger company going forward", Facebook said in a blog post trying to explain their side of the story.

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