A little over four years later, the Cambridge Analytica scandal continues to cause much ink to flow. According to a 2019 deposition by Mark Zuckerberg to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the federal agency responsible for regulating and supervising the financial markets, the CEO of Meta lied before Congress when it heard him. He would have been aware of the actions of the English firm long before what he claimed.
The scale of the scandal erupted in 2018. Starting in 2014, Cambridge Analytica used user data collected from Facebook to build psychological profiles of American citizens. This information was used to sway voters in the 2016 Republican Party presidential primaries, as well as the presidential election that same year, which propelled Donald Trump to the White House.
This is one of the worst scandals in the history of Meta both in terms of its magnitude and its consequences: the data of 87 million profiles were compromised. Since then, the American giant has reached an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the agency responsible for applying consumer law, by agreeing to pay a record fine of 5 billion dollars and to make numerous changes to his politics. However, his image has been heavily tarnished, and his reputation is still badly damaged.
Legal proceedings, including in the state of Delaware, are still ongoing in connection with this case, report Gizmodobut Meta’s deal with the FTC allowed it to put the worst of this scandal, legally speaking, behind it.
What does the SEC document reveal?
Zamaan Qureshi is a technology policy expert and adviser for The Real Facebook Oversight Board, an unaffiliated advocacy group that formed as an antithesis to the not-so-independent Meta Oversight Board. Under the Freedom of Information Act, he submitted a request to the SEC for sworn testimony from Mark Zuckerberg, from 2019.
The document reveals that in 2017, the CEO of Meta made last-minute changes to a speech published to Facebook users regarding possible outside interference in the presidential election. In the speech, Zuckerberg said: We will continue our investigation into what happened on Facebook during this election. We should find out more, and if so, we will continue to work with the government. We are interested in foreign actors, including other Russian groups and other former Soviet states, as well as organizations like campaigns, to better understand how they have used our tools “.
However, the first version of the speech, the one that was eventually changed by the CEO, stated: “ We are already looking at foreign actors, including Russian intelligence actors in other Soviet states and organizations like Cambridge Analytica “.
In his SEC filing, Zuckerberg further states that he had been aware of the matter prior to the publication of articles about it in 2017: My opinion is that I have heard of them before. And that was after seeing a few mentions of what they claimed to do, I wanted to ask people I trusted what they thought. “.
Why is this a problem?
To shed light on this matter, Mark Zuckerberg was auditioned by members of the United States Congress in 2019. In response to questions from MPs about when he knew something was wrong with Cambridge Analytica, he answered : “ I’m not sure of the exact time but it was probably around the time this became public, I think it was around March 2018. I could be wrong “.
Quite clearly, this statement goes against the Meta CEO’s proposals in the SEC filing. This suggests that the leader hasn’t really been honest in his various interviews, and leaves the timeline of events unclear. As a reminder, Facebook employees were aware of a data leak as early as 2015, but did not immediately notify their CEO.
For his part, Meta declined to comment on the publication of the deposition, recalling that his case with the SEC had been charged for more than three years. This $100 million settlement dates back to 2019 and resolved US government allegations that Facebook misled investors for years.