By Nikhil Cariappa
A Facebook engineer had warned the company in October 2014 that entities with Russian IP addresses had been using an API key to pull over 3 billion data points a day from Facebook, reports The Guardian. This was revealed at the International Grand Committee on Disinformation and Fake News, convened in London earlier this week.
This exchange was part of a cache of emails obtained from court documents in an ongoing litigation between Facebook and an app developer named Six4Three. The committee comprised 24 official representatives from 9 different Parliaments.
Richard Allen, the VP for Public Policy at Facebook, representing the company and facing cross examination at the hearing, maintained that Facebook didn’t intend to hide any information from the public. He also questioned the veracity of unverified emails which were in the possession of a “hostile litigant” (Six4Three). The Wall Street Journal, having viewed some of the documents, reported that Facebook employees considered selling data to advertisers in exchange for larger ad spends.
Highlights of the committee
- Mark Zuckerberg’s absence was marked with an empty chair with a name plaque, the committee expressed its disappointment at Zuckerberg’s failure to turn up in person for the cross examination
- Allen admitted that Facebook had damaged public trust in the company through some of its actions
- Allen said that Facebook had discovered another campaign that it believed was run by Iranian operatives to spread fake news in the UK. This was reported to the public.
- Allen admitted that data from non-Facebook users was sitting on its servers, “due to the way the technology works”
- On the question of fake news being spread on WhatsApp to influence elections in Brazil, Allen said that it was considered illegitimate if fake accounts were used to spread political messaging, and that it was now recognized by the company that WhatsApp “needed to be included in the election protection effort.”
Note that Allen is also a member of the British Parliament (the House of Lords).
You can watch the hearing here.
The Cambridge Analytica Case
- Facebook admitted that prior to the US Presidential election, personal data of up to 87 million users (in the US) was harvested by data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica through an app designed by a data scientist named Aleksandr Kogan.
- The company had data on users from 9 other countries – India, the UK, Mexico, Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, Vietnam, Australia and Canada
Facebook’s Q3FY18 earnings
- Revenues – $13.73 billion
- Daily active users – 1.49 billion
- Monthly active users – 2.27 billion
- Average revenue per user – $6.09