New documents revealed as part of a US government lawsuit show that some Facebook staff had raised concerns about the data collection practices of Cambridge Analytica well before these were made public. Facebook has issued a response to these new documents trying to downplay these documents, claiming ‘they will cause confusion’ and that there is nothing new being highlighted.
The documents were revealed as part of the ongoing case by the District of Columbia against Facebook for its failure to protect consumers’ private data. They were released on request of the District of Columbia Attorney General.
While the employee names are redacted in the documents, they show the employees discussing the third-party data collection by political consultancy firms, and what should be allowed and what was problematic. The internal correspondence dating back to September 22, 2015 show the staff had doubts about how some political firms were collecting data from the website.
Cambridge Analytica is mentioned as well. The emails note the “largest and most aggressive on the conservative side is Cambridge Analytica, a sketchy (to say the least) data modelling company that has penetrated our market deeply.”
According to The Guardian, which had first reported about this internal discussion in March this year, Facebook staff had raised the issue of improper data collection by firms in September, which would be nearly four months before the December 2015 date, which the company had claimed.
By the time Cambridge Analytica was flagged is as high priority, Guardian had already broken the story and on the email thread it is being discussed as PR issue. The employees note they need to sort this out ASAP. The documents also show how some of these firms were collecting voter data from Facebook. The employees also talk about consultancy firm Nation Builder, and how that was collecting data.
In a blog post titled “Document Holds the Potential for Confusion,” Facebook’s vice president and deputy counsel Paul Grewal has said these documents prove nothing new. He added that the company only knew about Aleksandr Kogan, an app developer who sold data in December 2015, as it had initially claimed, and the September 2015 discussion was a different accusation that Cambridge Analytica was improperly scraping profiles.
He claims that the discussion ultimately did not amount to anything. “Facebook was not aware that Kogan sold data to Cambridge Analytica until December 2015. That is a fact that we have testified to under oath, that we have described to our core regulators, and that we stand by today,” reads the blog.