By Paul Grewal, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel
Today we are agreeing with the District of Columbia Attorney General to jointly make public a September 2015 document in which Facebook employees discuss public data scraping. We believe this document has the potential to confuse two different events surrounding our knowledge of Cambridge Analytica. There is no substantively new information in this document and the issues have been previously reported. As we have said many times, including last week to a British parliamentary committee, these are two distinct issues. One involved unconfirmed reports of scraping — accessing or collecting public data from our products using automated means — and the other involved policy violations by Aleksandr Kogan, an app developer who sold user data to Cambridge Analytica. This document proves the issues are separate; conflating them has the potential to mislead people.
Facebook was not aware that Kogan sold data to Cambridge Analytica until December 2015. That is a fact that we have testified to under oath, that we have described to our core regulators, and that we stand by today.
Here is the timeline: In September 2015, a Facebook employee shared unsubstantiated rumors from a competitor of Cambridge Analytica, which claimed that the data analytics company was scraping public data. This was the kind of data that you can see on someone’s Facebook profile even if you are not friends with them, a serious but frequent problem across the internet. An engineer looked into this concern and was not able to find evidence of data scraping. Even if such a report had been confirmed, such incidents would not naturally indicate the scale of the misconduct that Kogan had engaged in.
The first indication of Kogan’s involvement didn’t come until December 2015, three months later. That incident involved Kogan’s now widely known and unauthorized sale of data to Cambridge Analytica.
Cambridge Analytica was a clear lapse for us, which we have worked hard to address. We’ve learned many lessons that will help us become a stronger company going forward.