US investigators to examine Facebook’s response to Cambridge Analytica scandal

3 Jul 2018

Facebook app on mobile. Image: East pop/Shutterstock

The US probe of Cambridge Analytica has broadened its scope to include the actions and statements from Facebook itself.

A federal investigation into Facebook’s sharing of user data with Cambridge Analytica has now expanded to include the tech behemoth itself, according to a report from The Washington Post.

The investigation was already being steered by the Department of Justice, but now the FBI, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have joined the enquiry proceedings, which now include examining Facebook itself as well as the now-defunct political data consultancy firm.

What do authorities want to know?

Federal representatives are focusing their queries on what Facebook was aware of three years ago when it originally discovered Cambridge Analytica had obtained vast swathes of user data.

The data was gleaned from the platform by Dr Aleksandr Kogan, using Facebook’s Graph API to build a massive well of user data for Cambridge Analytica to work with. Kogan maintains he got permission to share the data.

Authorities want to get to the bottom of why Facebook didn’t disclose the incident to investors or users back in 2015.

Agents are combing for discrepancies in recent accounts of events and the official testimony of company officials is also being thoroughly examined.

Facebook under the microscope

Company spokesperson Matt Steinfeld said: “We are cooperating with officials in the US, UK and beyond. We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions and pledged to continue our assistance as their work continues.”

CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared in front of US and European politicians on separate occasions, addressing queries ranging from user privacy to how the company handled the scandal internally.

In recent days, Facebook sent a 747-page document to Congress answering some of the questions put to Zuckerberg during his time with US officials earlier this year. It included details of data-sharing partnerships with companies – including Apple and Amazon – that were in place even after 2015 when stricter rules for developers were introduced.

Investigators are particularly interested in the type of data collected from the Facebook platform and the conditions under which it was collected, as well as what the public knew about their information during the more loosely regulated data-sharing era.

A new regulatory era

In the months since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, Facebook has been conducting more frequent audits of applications and has restricted data access for developers on both its main site and Instagram.

On 2 July, Facebook announced a series of new API restrictions put in place to protect user data.

VP of product partnerships, Ime Archibong, explained that several APIs would be deprecated due to low usage and added that developers would now require company approval before using the Marketing API, a tool that helps businesses automate and scale advertising on the platform.

Archibong concluded: “These changes will continue to enable developers to create social experiences, while protecting people’s information.”

Facebook app on mobile. Image: East pop/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects