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Facebook denies giving contradictory evidence to parliament

The Guardian logo The Guardian 12/08/2019 Kevin Rawlinson
Damian Collins suggested Facebook staff knew of data misuse before the Guardian reported it. The firm denies it. © PA Damian Collins suggested Facebook staff knew of data misuse before the Guardian reported it. The firm denies it.

Facebook executives did not give contradictory evidence to a parliamentary committee investigating the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the firm has claimed, insisting that it learned of the misuse of data only when the Guardian reported it in December 2015.

The company was responding to Damian Collins, the chairman of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, who had sought clarification on points made by two Facebook executives before the committee.

He suggested a complaint filed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) appeared to show that Facebook staff knew about data being compromised earlier than its senior staff acknowledged to MPs.

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The complaint claimed that, while Facebook staff first raised concerns on the matter in September 2015, Facebook executives said the site first learned of the data misuse months later.

However, Facebook’s UK head of public policy, Rebecca Stimson, said the company “truthfully answered questions” on the issue and, rather than contradictions, provided accounts of two separate events.

“The evidence given to the committees by Mike Schroepfer (chief technology officer), Lord Allan (vice-president for policy solutions) and other Facebook representatives is entirely consistent with the allegations in the SEC Complaint filed 24 July 2019,” Stimson wrote.

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“In their evidence, Facebook representatives truthfully answered questions about when the company first learned of Aleksandr Kogan/GSR’s improper transfer of data to Cambridge Analytica, which was in December 2015, through the Guardian’s reporting. We are aware of no evidence to suggest that Facebook learned any earlier of that improper transfer.

“As we have told regulators, and many media stories have since reported, we heard speculation about data scraping by Cambridge Analytica in September 2015. We have also testified publicly that we first learned Kogan sold data to Cambridge Analytica in December 2015. These are two different things and this is not new information.

“The allegation in the SEC’s complaint that is the focus of your letter does not concern Kogan/GSR’s improper transfer of data to Cambridge Analytica.

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“Rather, as previously reported, that allegation relates to rumours in September 2015 that Cambridge Analytica was promoting its ability to scrape user data from public Facebook pages. The scraping of data from public pages (which is unfortunately common for any internet service) is different from, and has no relationship to, the illicit transfer to third parties of data obtained by an app developer (which was the subject of the December 2015 Guardian article and of Facebook representatives’ evidence).”

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