DC district attorney says Facebook knew about Cambridge Analytica earlier than reported

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement last year that when the Guardian broke the news about Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of the user data of millions of Facebook users in December 2015, Facebook was just as surprised as everyone else. However, the district attorney’s office of Washington, DC, now says that they have emails showing that Facebook actually knew in September, three months before the story broke. Facebook says the emails in question are actually about a different aspect of the privacy breach and are fighting in court to keep them sealed.

“When Facebook learned about Kogan’s breach of Facebook’s data use policies in December 2015, we took immediate action,” Zuckerberg testified to Congress last year. “The company retained an outside firm to assist in investigating Kogan’s actions, to demand that Kogan and each party he had shared data with delete the data and any derivatives of the data, and to obtain certifications that they had done so.”

The court filing in DC shows that Washington, DC-based Facebook employees “played a leading role in responding to how third-party applications improperly sold consumer data to Cambridge Analytica (and other parties) in violation of Facebook’s policies.” The emails also reportedly reveal that a Facebook employee “warned the company” about Cambridge Analytica in September 2015.

The emails surfaced because the DC DA is suing Facebook for privacy policies that allegedly misled almost half of DC residents during the 2016 election.

Facebook claims that there are two parts to this scandal: The data scraping and sale of data conducted by Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan via his personality quiz app and data scraping conducted by Cambridge Analytica.

“In September 2015 employees heard speculation that Cambridge Analytica was scraping data, something that is unfortunately common for any internet service,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to the press. “In December 2015, we first learned through media reports that Kogan sold data to Cambridge Analytica, and we took action. Those were two different things.”

The DC district attorney office begs to differ, saying that they’re all part and parcel of the same privacy violation scandal. They also allege that the emails prove that Facebook employees who were involved in 2016 presidential campaigns knew or should have known about the actions Cambridge Analytica was taking.

Facebook is trying to block the release of the emails, saying that they not only contain private company information but also aren’t relevant at all.

“The Document contains sensitive commercial information regarding the ‘inner workings’ of Facebook's business that should be protected against disclosure,” a motion opposing release of the email reads. They argue that making the email public “could provide competitors with valuable insights into how Facebook operates. The general public itself has little or no interest in this Document that could warrant exposing Facebook to the risks that would inevitably accompany disclosure.”

It’s a little ironic that Facebook is using “privacy” as their defense against releasing documents that may shed light on their privacy scandal, but that’s where we are now. Stay tuned to learn how this all shakes out.

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