Facebook may have known about the Cambridge Analytica scandal months earlier

Facebook employees were already concerned in September 2015 about data collection from Cambridge Analytica. That is more than two months before the scandal came out, and rather than the company always maintained that it knew about the scandal.

This is apparent from a document that Facebook was obliged to put online from the US Department of Justice. The blog post containing the relevant document, which cannot be found on the homepage of Facebook’s ‘newsroom’, is called ‘ Document Holds the Potential for Confusion ‘. The document contains a long series of e-mails between two Facebook employees. They already mentioned Cambridge Analytica by name in September 2015, and around that time they are already expressing their concerns about the company’s practices.

The first time the company is mentioned is on September 22. One employee then writes to another that “a questionable (at least) data model company has deeply penetrated our market.” The employees mention more companies that, just like Cambridge Analytica, dubiously collected a lot of user data. Cambridge Analytica, however, was “the largest and most aggressive on the conservative side,” the employees said. A week later another employee responded by saying that “he suspects that the data collection of this company is probably against the rules.” The latter is said again on October 13.

Facebook employees also mention other companies that collect data from users in dubious ways. On December 11, employees again speak specifically about Cambridge Analytica, this time because it ‘has now become a pr-issue’. By that, they mean the coverage by The Guardian, which revealed the scandal surrounding the company for the first time around that date. As a result, Cambridge Analytica would suddenly have received ‘high priority’ in the company.

It is not clear what knowledge Mark Zuckerberg had at the time about the practices of Cambridge Analytica. Earlier, the company stated, among other things, before a committee of inquiry of the American Congress that it had already received signals that an automatic and unnecessary amount of data was being collected. However, those messages were not confirmed then. According to the company, the current documents also do not show that it was clear to Facebook that Cambridge Analytica collected more data than expected.