A newly revealed document shows Facebook employees discussing Cambridge Analytica before the story exploded in the media.
NBC News’ Dylan Byers reported on the document Friday morning. Not long after Byers’ report dropped, Facebook published the document via its press site, under the defensive-sounding header, “Document Holds the Potential for Confusion.”
Here is what the document contains: In emails from September and October 2015, Facebook employees discussed the possibility of “data scraping” by the “sketchy” Cambridge Analytica. One employee says “there are likely a few data policy violations here.”
Then in Dec. 11, 2015, The Guardian reported that Cambridge Analytica had improperly obtained Facebook user data via a quiz created by researcher Aleksandr Kogan, and was using that data to aid Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign for president.
That prompted this message: “Can you expedite the review of Cambridge Analytica or let us know what the next steps are? Unfortunately, this firm is now a PR issue as this story is on the front page of the Guardian website.”
Essentially, Facebook employees knew something was wrong before the The Guardian story was published. It wasn’t until more than two years later, in March 2018, that the New York Times and The Guardian really blew the lid off the the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
In a post, attributed to Paul Grewal, Facebook’s vice president and deputy general counsel, the company claims, “There is no substantively new information in this document and the issues have been previously reported.”
It’s an interesting window into Facebook’s internal process for dealing with what has turned out to be its largest scandal to date. It’s clear that a few employees at Facebook suspected something was amiss and were trying to figure out exactly what.
In something of an understatement, Grewal calls the scandal a “clear lapse.” The fact that we’re still talking about this four years after the first inklings of trouble shows how big of a disaster it truly was.