Belfast Telegraph

Facebook denies executives gave conflicting data scandal evidence

By Martyn Landi

Facebook has denied its executives gave contradictory evidence to a parliamentary committee that was investigating the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

Chairman of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, Damian Collins, wrote to the social media giant earlier this month seeking clarification on points made by two executives to the committee.

He suggested a complaint filed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) appeared to show Facebook staff knew about data being compromised earlier than its senior staff acknowledged to MPs.

The complaint claimed that while Facebook staff first raised concerns on the matter in September 2015, Facebook executives said the site first learned of the data misuse through media reports in December 2015.

However, in a letter responding to Mr Collins, Facebook's UK head of public policy, Rebecca Stimson, said it had "truthfully answered questions" on the issue and, rather than contradictions, had provided accounts of two separate events.

"The evidence given to the Committees by Mike Schroepfer (Chief Technology Officer), Lord Allan (Vice President for Policy Solutions), and other Facebook representatives is entirely consistent with the allegations in the SEC Complaint filed 24 July 2019," she wrote.

"In their evidence, Facebook representatives truthfully answered questions about when the company first learned of Aleksandr Kogan/GSR's improper transfer of data to Cambridge Analytica, which was in December 2015 through The Guardian's reporting. We are aware of no evidence to suggest that Facebook learned any earlier of that improper transfer.

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"As we have told regulators, and many media stories have since reported, we heard speculation about data scraping by Cambridge Analytica in September 2015.

"We have also testified publicly that we first learned Kogan sold data to Cambridge Analytica in December 2015.

"These are two different things and this is not new information. The allegation in the SEC's complaint that is the focus of your letter does not concern Kogan/GSR's improper transfer of data to Cambridge Analytica.

"Rather, as previously reported, that allegation relates to rumours in September 2015 that Cambridge Analytica was promoting its ability to scrape user data from public Facebook pages.

"The scraping of data from public pages (which is unfortunately common for any internet service) is different from, and has no relationship to, the illicit transfer to third parties of data obtained by an app developer (which was the subject of the December 2015 Guardian article and of Facebook representatives' evidence).

"We also followed up other media reports about Cambridge Analytica's activity to see if we could find evidence of abuse, but this led us back to their legal certification from January 2016 that they had deleted the data, as we made clear to the Committee in our evidence," Ms Stimson said.

Last month, the social network was fined $5bn (£4bn) by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over its handling of user data in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

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