Leaked email shows how Cambridge Analytica and Facebook first responded to what became a huge data scandal

Getty ImagesFacebook CEO and chairman Mark.
  • An email exchange obtained by Business Insider showed an early exchange between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica amid a rash of negative press in 2015.
  • “This has been a difficult period for us, but I would like to reiterate our commitment to adhering to Facebook’s terms of service,” Cambridge Analytica wrote.

A 2015 email exchange between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica provides a glimpse into how both companies responded to early indications that the firm was misusing the social media giant’s data.

The emails, obtained by Business Insider, showed Facebook’s policy manager, Allison Hendrix, asking Cambridge Analytica whether there were any inaccuracies in news stories about the data firm’s use of Facebook as it related to Republican Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign.

The articles were from Fortune, Gizmodo, and Mother Jones. They followed up on reporting from The Guardian, which wrote that Cruz wasusing a “firm that harvested data on millions of unwitting Facebook users.”

“Here are the articles I saw yesterday in addition to The Guardian. Please let me know (1) where there are inaccuracies and (2) whether I can share your PR contact’s info with our PR team (for the purpose of sharing that contact info with any media outlet who contacts us)?” she wrote.

The Guardian wrote that Cruz’s campaign was “using psychological data based on research spanning tens of millions of Facebook users, harvested largely without their permission,” according to documents it obtained. The publication reported that Cambridge Analytica’s parent company gathered Facebook data by paying people $US1 on the Amazon marketplace for “human intelligence.” Anyone who sold their data ended up not only selling their own personal information, but that of their friends too.

In Mother Jones, Kevin Drum wrote that none of what was reported was unusual for a consumer research firm. But he pointed blame at Facebook for “allowing people to take advantage” of its default user settings, which he said opened people up to such data harvesting.

A person named Alex responded, according to the emails. (Cambridge Analytica did not immediately respond to a request for comment.) He copied CEO Alexander Nix and Cambridge Analytica’s public relations official. The person included what he claimed was incorrect about each piece in his email to Facebook.

“This has been a difficult period for us, but I would like to reiterate our commitment to adhering to Facebook’s terms of service,” he wrote. “I hope this email is helpful, please let me know if you need anything else.”

He insisted that Cambridge Analytica did not collect information from Facebook “without users permission,” did not pay people $US1 to access their Facebook profile, and that Cambridge Analytica did not take advantage of Facebook’s default privacy settings.

Read the email exchange:

Cambridge emailObtained by Business Insider

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has roiled the tech and political worlds over the past several days. Whistleblower Christopher Wylie detailed how the company violated Facebook’s rules to collect data from 50 million unwitting Facebook users. Wylie has said he “made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool,” referring to Trump’s former chief strategist’s involvement with the group, backed by the GOP megadonor Robert Mercer and his family.

Nix has since been suspended pending an investigation.

At the center of the controversy is a Cambridge University psychology professor, Aleksandr Kogan, who provided Cambridge Analytica with information gleaned from a separate personality app, to which users willingly provided their information.

Facebook said Kogan breached its rules by giving Cambridge Analytica the information gathered by his personality app.Cambridge Analytica said it deleted all of that data in 2015 when it learned the rules were broken. Kogan has said he is being used as a “scapegoat” by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

In Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Wednesday response to the scandal, he cited the 2015 Guardian report about which Hendrix had initially asked Cambridge Analytica.

“In 2015, we learned from journalists at The Guardian that Kogan had shared data from his app with Cambridge Analytica,” he wrote. “It is against our policies for developers to share data without people’s consent, so we immediately banned Kogan’s app from our platform, and demanded that Kogan and Cambridge Analytica formally certify that they had deleted all improperly acquired data. They provided these certifications.”

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