Facebook denies confusion on Cambridge Analytica

Facebook straightens record saying that that knowing the operations of the controversial advertising and PR firm, Cambridge Analytica is a different issue from knowing that Aleksandr Kogan, an app developer who partnered with the PR firm, has been selling scraped Facebook data to CA.

In a blog post, Facebook said that the while the two issues are interrelated, they are two separate issues and clarified that the testimony that was given by the company under oath saying that they only discovered that Kogan was selling Facebook data to Cambridge Analytica in December 2015 holds true amidst a new court document revealing that Facebook has knowledge of the operations of the PR firm since September 2015.

“As we have said many times, including last week to a British parliamentary committee, these are two distinct issues. One involved unconfirmed reports of scraping — accessing or collecting public data from our products using automated means — and the other involved policy violations by Aleksandr Kogan, an app developer who sold user data to Cambridge Analytica,” reads the blog post linked by Paul Grewal, Vice President, and Deputy General Counsel at Facebook.

The blog post was a response to a complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission back in July 2019 alleging that Facebook has been giving a misleading statement to the public and during the hearings involving the Cambridge Analytica scandal which has used data scraped from the social network in order to manipulate voter behavior during the 2016 Elections.

“For more than two years, Facebook made misleading statements in its required public filings about the misuse of its users’ data. From 2016 until mid-March 2018, Facebook presented the risk of misuse of its users’ data as merely hypothetical. In fact, Facebook had already become aware by December 2015 that a researcher had improperly sold information related to tens of millions of Facebook users to data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica,” reads the complaint filed, which a copy was obtained by Z6Mag, by the SEC.

The SEC highlights the fact that during the IPO filing of the social network in 2012, Facebook assured investors that the risk of app developers who connect their services to the platform misusing the data from Facebook is hypothetical.

Facebook said in the blog post that they agreed “with the District of Columbia Attorney General to jointly make public a September 2015 document in which Facebook employees discuss public data scraping” because it “has the potential to confuse two different events surrounding our knowledge of Cambridge Analytica.”

The said documents contained conversations among employees of the tech giant relating to their discussion on what they should do regarding the potential violations of Cambridge Analytica. The conversations seen in the document dates back to September 2015, contrary to the initial statement that they only knew that Kogan is selling Facebook data to Cambridge Analytica after The Guardian published an expose’ about it in December 2015.

The documents revealed that many of the employees have already flagged the operations of Cambridge Analytica as potentially non-compliant to privacy policies. One employee said, “my hunch is that these app’s data-scraping activity is likely non-compliant,” highlighting several Facebook Platform Policies (FPPs) that these firms could have violated, including, “Don’t sell, license or purchase any data obtained from us or our services.”

“With all the above-mentioned FPPs in mind, I imagine it would be *very* difficult to engage in data-scraping activity as you described while still being compliant with FPPs,” the employee wrote.

As a response, Facebook said: “Facebook was not aware that Kogan sold data to Cambridge Analytica until December 2015. That is the fact that we have testified to under oath, that we have described to our core regulators, and that we stand by today.”

Facebook explained that while employees at the social networking platform did know regarding the data scraping operations of Cambridge Analytica since September 2015, it was only on December 2015 that they were made aware of the involvement of Kogan.

In the end, Facebook admitted that what happened involving Kogan and Cambridge Analytica is a lapse on their part and assured that they have already learned their lesson.

“Cambridge Analytica was a clear lapse for us, which we have worked hard to address. We’ve learned many lessons that will help us become a stronger company going forward,” they said.

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