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Facebook asked to explain discrepancies in evidence over Cambridge Analytica

DCMS Committee chairman asks Facebook to clarify what it knew about Cambridge Analytica’s use of its data and when

Damian Collins, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, has written to Facebook’s vice-president of global affairs and communications, Nick Clegg, raising new questions over Facebook’s account of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Collins has asked Clegg to explain contradictions between evidence given by Facebook executives to the DCMS Committee and allegations made by the US Securites and Exchange Commission (SEC) during its investigation into Facebook.

Facebook paid $100m in July to settle a complaint by the SEC, which accused the social media giant of making misleading disclosures about the risk of its data being misused.

The complaint contained a timeline of events that contradicted evidence Facebook representatives had given to the DCMS Committee last year.

“The SEC complaint seemingly directly contradicts written and oral evidence we received from Facebook representatives over the course of our inquiry into disinformation and fake news on several points,” wrote Collins.

The committee’s inquiry ultimately led to the publication of a hard-hitting report in February 2019, which labelled Facebook “digital gangsters”.

Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, told the DCMS Committee that Facebook had first learned about Cambridge Analytica’s activity when an article was published in The Guardian in December 2015.

But according to the SEC report, employees in Facebook’s political advertising group had requested an investigation into Cambridge Analytica’s possible data scraping of Facebook users’ data months earlier, in September 2015.

Collins’ letter continued: “We therefore request a response on whether the SEC complaint is accurate that employees did raise concerns about Cambridge Analytica before December 2015 and how these discrepancies in evidence have occurred.”

According to the SEC complaint, Facebook employees raised a series of red flags about Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook data in 2015 and were also aware of its misuse from 2016 and beyond.

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“Facebook seemingly was content to take Cambridge Analytica at its word,” wrote Collins, who requested that Facebook “provide information on any and all instances where concerns… were raised by employees and why no action was taken until 2018”.

His letter also requested clarification on why Facebook’s senior managers were not informed of the data misuse until it appeared in the press.

Rebecca Stimson, Facebook’s UK head of public policy, told the DCMS Committee in a letter dated 14 May 2018 that CEO Mark Zuckerberg was unaware of the allegations that Cambridge Analytica may not have deleted data about Facebook users until March 2018.

Collins added: “We believe this to be particularly egregious given that we have been told that these issues should have been reported through senior management and that the buck ultimately stops with Mr Zuckerberg himself.”

The SEC complaint alleged that “Facebook filed materially misleading periodic reports with the Commission”, presenting the risk of its users’ data being misused as merely hypothetical when it knew for a fact that its data had been misused.

Facebook continued to give these hypothetical warnings for two years until it publicly disclosed in March 2018 that Cambridge Analytica had misused its data.

The DCMS Committee has requested clarification from Facebook on these points by 12 August 2019.

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