Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg misled Congress and the American public about how early he became aware of the threat Cambridge Analytica posed to Facebook users’ privacy, according to a recent document of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
On February 19, 2019, Zuckerberg told the SEC that he had known about Cambridge Analytica since at least 2017. Earlier that year, Zuckerberg sent an email to Facebook employees asking about an article published by Motherboard about the data processing company. Vice News was one of the first English-language media to detail Cambridge Analytica’s use of online data to create psychographic profiles.
The Securities and Exchange Commission asked Mark Zuckerberg if this was the first time he had heard of the firm:
“I think it probably is,” Zuckerberg told the Commission. “My guess is I heard of them before. And that this was after seeing a couple of mentions of what they were claiming to do, I wanted to ask people who I trusted what their assessment was”.
Zuckerberg also considered directly naming Cambridge Analytica in a statement he made about Facebook’s efforts to combat Russian meddling in the fall 2017 election. In the first version of the statement, he was to say: “We are looking into foreign actors, including additional Russian groups in other countries, and organizations such as Cambridge Analytica”. However, on the day of the live broadcast, he at best hinted at the organization, saying Facebook was investigating “organizations like the campaigns, to further our understanding of how they used our tools.”
The timeline Zuckerberg provided to the SEC contradicts the one he gave during sworn testimony before the House Financial Services Committee on October 23, 2019.
“I’m not sure of the exact time, but it was probably around the time it became public, I think it was around March of 2018. I could be wrong, though,” he told Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The resulting data is likely to raise new questions about Facebook’s work with Cambridge Analytica. To date, this scandal is the biggest in Meta history. The firm collected information from 87 million Facebook profiles and may have shared that data with Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Brexit campaign.