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Seized documents reveal that Facebook knew about Russian data harvesting as early as 2014

Seized documents reveal that Facebook knew about Russian data harvesting as early as 2014


Facebook needs to start being more open

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook was apparently aware of Russian-linked data harvesting as early as 2014, according to an email from a Facebook engineer. The email was contained in internal documents that were seized by the UK Parliament and revealed at a hearing today by MP Damian Collins, via Bloomberg.

It’s the latest blow to Facebook’s inability to protect its users’ data, following breaches like the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the login data hack earlier this year. Facebook didn’t comment on the documents during the UK hearing. Richard Allan, the vice president of policy solutions at Facebook, refused to discuss the email, which had been sealed by courts in California along with other documents from Six4Three, the defunct app developer that was suing Facebook for an unrelated issue in the US and was forced to provide these documents to Parliament earlier this week. (Allan represented Facebook at the hearing after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg denied repeated requests to testify, according to The Washington Post.)

This is not the first incident involving Russian influence on Facebook. The company has faced congressional concern regarding Russian ads that appeared during the 2016 US election season, and it has repeatedly banned misinformation accounts from the Russian-based Internet Research Agency over the course of 2018.

The bigger issue is that Facebook is continuing its trend of not being transparent with the public about when it learned about Russian interferences. After the 2016 election, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg publicly dismissed the idea of misinformation on the platform impacting the election as “crazy,” despite the thousands of divisive Russian ads that would later be revealed. It’s that continuing erosion of trust that could be a real problem for the company going forward.