Facebook has suspended another analytics firm that harvested data from its site and said it was investigating whether the firm’s contracts with the U.S. government and a Russian nonprofit tied to Moscow violate the platform’s policies.
Crimson Hexagon has for years used the platform to gather data from public posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to collate and analyze data for its clients, which are spread out in Russia, the US, the UK and Turkey.
Facebook reportedly did not have the full measure of the amount and kind of data being harvested by the firm, and had not evaluated the government contracts before they took effect. Facebook has ever since announced that it is suspending the firm’s account and operations on Facebook and Instagram, and will launch an investigation into how Crimson Hexagon collects, shares and stores user data.
“Facebook has a responsibility to help protect people’s information, which is one of the reasons why we have tightened” access to user data in many ways in recent years, said Ime Archibong, Facebook vice president for product partnerships, in a statement. Archibong said that Facebook allows outside parties to produce “anonymized insights for business purposes” but prohibits data use for surveillance purposes.
Crimson Hexagon meanwhile has announced that it uses only publicly available data, abides by the policies of its social-media partners and doesn’t collect private data. It is true that the firm pulls only publicly-available data from Facebook and Twitter. However, it appears at least once to have mistakenly received private data from Instagram, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the suspension. The private data access, which were private Instagram posts in a batch of hundreds, in 2016 seems to have occurred due software glitch on Facebook’s part.
Public data on social media platforms are a feast for analytics firms, political parties and governments alike. Although a user can choose what details of their Facebook profiles will be public (profile picture, name are public for all users, for instance), analytics firms like Crimson Hexagon and Cambridge Analytica can access data that has not been designated private — which can be more than you think or know.
TechCrunch notes that Crimson Hexagon was co-founded by the same person who was put in charge of Facebook’s new social science initiative: Gary King, Harvard professor and social scientist. He has denied any involvement in the firm’s everyday operations, although he is chairman…
What kind of work as Crimson Hexagon done?
Here is what all Crimson Hexagon has been up to: it has sold its proprietary analytics platform in foreign countries including Russia and Turkey. It worked with a Russian non-for-profit tied to the Kremlin, which used the firm to study the Russian people’s opinion of the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The government of Turkey reportedly used Crimson Hexagon’s service in its decision in 2014 to briefly shut down Twitter amid public dissent. Since 2014, U.S. government agencies have paid Crimson Hexagon more than $800,000 for 22 separate contracts, according to federal procurement data accessed by the WSJ. In June, the firm secured a more than $240,000 contract with the U.S. State Department.
The suspension and details of Crimson’s operations have come to light at a time when Mark Zuckerburg and his colleagues have been trying to fervently replace the public’s faith in the company, after it all went up in smoke with the Cambridge Analytica disaster. The firm harvested private data of 80 million Americans, in contravention with Facebook’s policies right under the company’s nose. The firm later worked for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Earlier this month, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office slapped Facebook with a £500,000 fine for failing to ensure that Cambridge Analytica deleted user data.