Facebook in new furore over data secrets

Employees raised alarm about controversial UK firm Cambridge Analytica months before first news reports

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced criticism over the Cambridge Analytica affair. AFP
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced criticism over the Cambridge Analytica affair. AFP

Facebook employees flagged concerns about the harvesting of users’ data by Cambridge Analytica three months earlier than previously acknowledged by the social media giant, court documents have suggested.

Documents filed in the United States suggested that an employee in Washington DC warned the company in September 2015 about the activities of the controversial data analytics company that had sought to use data to help the 2016 Donald Trump election campaign.

Facebook has told legislators that it first became aware of the sharing of its users’ data with Cambridge Analytica in December 2015.

But the papers, filed by the attorney general for Washington DC, suggested they knew before that. The documents were partially redacted so it was not clear what the employee had told the company.

British MP Damian Collins, whose parliamentary committee probed the affair, suggested that the new revelations indicated that Facebook had consistently misled his investigation.

The social network giant company suspended Cambridge Analytica following allegations that it received 87 million user profiles in breach of privacy rules to help fine-tune its online political advertising.

The data was obtained by a Cambridge University academic who developed an app downloaded by 270,000 people for research purposes but then passed the details to the data analytics firm in breach of an undertaking. The data of their friends was also harvested.

A Facebook spokesperson told the Guardian newspaper that employees knew about Cambridge Analytica’s practices in September 2015, but they were separate from the later incident that sparked worldwide anger.

UK authorities last year fined the social media giant £500,000, the highest possible punishment for data breaches.

The latest controversy comes as the company has also come under intense pressure about its response to the New Zealand mosque attacks, when the terrorist live streamed the shootings on the site.

Published: March 22, 2019 10:20 PM


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