Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Facebook allows a third-party analytics company access to user data, conducts poor oversight of said company, and then is caught flat-footed when asked about the situation by a journalist.
Yeah, it’s happened again. And no, you’re not crazy for getting that Cambridge Analytica déjà vu. Facebook was forced to suspend Boston-based Crimson Hexagon today after the Wall Street Journal reported on the company’s contracts with a Kremlin-tied Russian nonprofit and the U.S. government.
Crimson Hexagon, which bills itself as having “instant access to the world’s largest volume of unstructured text and images across social, online public, and enterprise-held data sources,” apparently gathered and analyzed public Facebook data on behalf of clients.
At issue for Facebook, reports the Journal, is whether or not Crimson Hexagon’s government contracts are in violation of Facebook policy. Apparently the Facebook execs hadn’t thought too much about it until reporters asked.
“Facebook has a responsibility to help protect people’s information,” Facebook vice president for product partnerships Ime Archibong told the Journal, “which is one of the reasons why we have tightened” access to user data.
Over at Crimson Hexagon, meanwhile, chief technology officer Chris Bingham insisted in a statement to the Journal that his company wasn’t doing anything untoward and that it was looking to regain its access to public Facebook data shortly.
Crimson Hexagon, of course, is not the first company to get in hot water for its use of Facebook user data. Unlike Cambridge Analytica, however, this potential abuse doesn’t involve a potentially shady researcher selling data. Rather, it was Crimson Hexagon taking public data from Facebook in a way that — as far as we can tell now — Facebook was designed to facilitate.
In other words, Facebook was OK with what Crimson Hexagon was grabbing, just potentially not who it was sharing it with.
Maybe Facebook should have paid a little more attention to those share settings.
Regardless, just like in the case of Cambridge Analytica, no matter what Facebook does now, the cat’s already out of the bag. There’s no clawing back user data that’s long since been spread around the digital universe — perhaps something to keep in mind the next time you consider hitting that “Post” button.