Facebook jumps on Crimson Hexagon following data share breach accusations

With another company being accused of breaching Facebook’s data-sharing policy, it’s no surprise that the social network has been quick to act.

Facebook announced the suspension of Boston-based analytics firm Crimson Hexagon - a company that reportedly has ties with government agencies around the world, including Russian nonprofits with alleged ties to the Kremlin - last week, following a report by Wall Street Journal (WSJ) questioning whether it uses data from social media for surveillance purposes.

Calling itself an “AI-powered consumer insights company”, and working with brands including Adidas, Walmart, Samsung, Paramount and BBC, Crimson Hexagon claims to be able to analyse more than one trillion social media posts a day, while it’s understood to be able to analyse over 160m photographs in the same timeframe.

Last year, Facebook banned its users’ data from being used for government surveillance, but still allows third parties to provide this data to government agencies for market research purposes.

Following WSJ’s queries around the company’s ties with the US government, a Russian non-profit and the Turkish government, Facebook made the decision to bar access by the company to its Facebook and Instagram APIs, preventing it from accessing any user data.

“We don’t allow developers to build surveillance tools using information from Facebook or Instagram,” Facebook said in a statement: “We take these allegations seriously, and we have suspended these apps while we investigate.”

Since the announcement, Crimson Hexagon has responded that it is complying with the investigation, acknowledging the weight of the discourse in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where data on 87m social media users was gathered to potentially swing the results of the 2016 US presidential election.

In a blog post, the company’s CTO, Chris Bingham, denied any wrongdoing by the firm, explaining the distinction between the use of public and private online data.

“Public online data is data that anyone can access, including, for example, any tweets from a public Twitter account, public posts or comments on forums, or publicly distributed news articles or blog posts. All of this public data is collected by Crimson Hexagon so that users of our platform can analyse it to understand large-scale consumer trends and preferences,” said Bingham.

“What is not considered public online data? Social media posts published by private accounts and profile information from private social media accounts. This is private online data that Crimson Hexagon has never collected, and has no ability to collect.”

“What Cambridge Analytica did was explicitly illegal, while the collection of public data is completely legal and sanctioned by the data providers that Crimson engages with, including Twitter and Facebook, among others,” Bingham added.

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