Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been rather scarce lately, despite a host of woes besetting his company — but Wednesday he emerged from his cocoon to offer a limp apology, admit they had no control over data like that used by Cambridge Analytica, and that he “will happily” testify before Congress if he’s the right person to do so.
Well, Congress has taken him at his word. “You are the right person to testify before Congress,” wrote the leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a letter detailed early this morning. His capacity as CEO and “the employee who has been the leader of Facebook through all the key strategic decisions since its launch” make him the best person to testify.
Earlier this week Senators Klobuchar (D-MN) and Kennedy (R-LA) from the Senate Judiciary Committee specifically asked for Zuckerberg as well.
Senator Kennedy had sharp words (in a CNN interview) for Facebook and other tech companies that sent along some smooth operators to talk to them back in November: “We had one hearing — they all sent their lawyers. I don’t know what they paid them but they got their money’s worth, cause their lawyers didn’t say a damn thing.”
He and others are asking that the man himself come along.
Kennedy said FB lawyers won't do: "They didn't say a damn thing, which was what they were paid to do," he said about Nov. Russia hearings "I'd encourage Mr. Zuckerberg to do the common sense thing and roll up his sleeves and take a meaningful amount of time talking to us"
The Senate Commerce Committee also desires his presence.
At this point it would be pretty dangerous for Zuckerberg not to heed the call. Lawmakers don’t take kindly to captains of industry who send underlings instead of tackling major issues like this personally.
As the Open Markets Institute’s Matt Stolller points out in an insightful tweet storm, however, the shortcomings of Facebook’s privacy rules are only part of the story. Once Congress has Zuckerberg in the hot seat, they might consider taking on the idea that Facebook has been playing news organizations and publishers like a fiddle.
The swipe is where the similarity ends. Raya is less like Tinder and more like a secret society. You need a member’s recommendations or a lot of friends inside to join, and you have to apply with an essay question. It costs a flat $7.99 for everyone, women and celebrities included. You show yourself off with a video slideshow set to music of your choice. And it’s for professional networking as well as dating, with parallel profiles for each.
Launched in March 2015, Raya has purposefully flown under the radar. No interviews. Little info about the founders. Not even a profile on Crunchbase’s startup index. In fact, in late 2016 it quietly acquired video messaging startup Chime, led by early Facebooker Jared Morgenstern, without anyone noticing. He’d become Raya’s first investor a year earlier. But Chime was fizzling out after raising $1.2 million. “I learned that not everyone who leaves Facebook, their next thing turns to gold,” Morgenstern laughs. So he sold it to Raya for equity and brought four of his employees to build new experiences for the app.
Now the startup’s COO, Morgenstern has agreed to give TechCrunch the deepest look yet at Raya, where the pretty, popular and powerful meet each other.
Temptation via trust
Raya COO Jared Morgenstern
“Raya is a utility for introducing you to people who can change your life. Soho House uses physical space, we’re trying to use software,” says Morgenstern, referencing the global network of members-only venues.
We’re chatting in a coffee shop in San Francisco. It’s an odd place to discuss Raya, given the company has largely shunned Silicon Valley in favor of building a less nerdy community in LA, New York, London and Paris. The exclusivity might feel discriminatory for some, even if you’re chosen based on your connections rather than your wealth or race. Though people already self-segregate based on where they go to socialize. You could argue Raya just does the same digitally.
Morgenstern refuses to tell me how much Raya has raised, how it started or anything about its founding team beyond that they’re a “Humble, focused group that prefers not to be part of the story.” But he did reveal some of the core tenets that have reportedly attracted celebrities like DJs Diplo and Skrillex, actors Elijah Wood and Amy Schumer and musicians Demi Lovato and John Mayer, plus scores of Instagram models and tattooed creative directors.
Raya’s iOS-only appisn’t a swiping game for fun and personal validation. Its interface and curated community are designed to get you from discovering someone to texting if you’re both interested to actually meeting in person as soon as possible. Like at a top-tier university or night club, there’s supposed to be an in-group sense of camaraderie that makes people more open to each other.
Then there are the rules.
“This is an intimate community with zero-tolerance for disrespect or mean-spirited behavior. Be nice to each other. Say hello like adults,” says an interstitial screen that blocks use until you confirm you understand and agree every time you open the app. That means no sleazy pick-up lines or objectifying language. You’re also not allowed to screenshot, and you’ll be chastized with a numbered and filed warning if you do.
It all makes Raya feel consequential. You’re not swiping through infinite anybodies and sorting through reams of annoying messages. People act right because they don’t want to lose access. Raya recreates the feel of dating or networking in a small town, where your reputation follows you. And that sense of trust has opened a big opportunity where competitors like Tinder or LinkedIn can’t follow.
Self-expression to first impression
Until now, Raya showed you people in your city as well as around the world — which is a bit weird since it would be hard to ever run into each other. But to achieve its mission of getting you offline to meet people in-person, it’s now letting you see nearby people on a map when GPS says they’re at hot spots like bars, dance halls and cafes. The idea is that if you both swipe right, you could skip the texting and just walk up to each other.
“I’m not sure why Tinder and the other big meeting-people apps aren’t doing this,” says Morgenstern. But the answer seems obvious. It would be creepy on a big public dating app. Even other exclusive dating apps like The League that induct people due to their resume more than their personality might feel too unsavory for a map, since having gone to an Ivy League college doesn’t mean you’re not a jerk. Hell, it might make that more likely.
But this startup is betting that its vetted, interconnected, “cool” community will be excited to pick fellow Raya members out of the crowd to see if they have a spark or business synergy.
That brings Raya closer to the Holy Grail of networking apps where you can discover who you’re compatible with in the same room without risking the crash-and-burn failed come-ons. You can filter by age and gender when browsing social connections, or by “Entertainment & Culture,” “Art & Design,” and “Business & Tech” buckets for work. And through their bio and extended slideshows of photos set to their favorite song, you get a better understanding of someone than from just a few profile pics on other apps.
Users can always report people they’ve connected with if they act sketchy, though with the new map feature I was dismayed to learn they can’t yet report people they haven’t seen or rejected in the app. That could lower the consequences for finding someone you want to meet, learning a bit about them, but then approaching without prior consent. However, Morgenstern insists, “The real risk is the density challenge.”
Finding your tribe
Raya’s map doesn’t help much if there are no other members for 100 miles. The company doesn’t restrict the app to certain cities, or schools like Facebook originally did to beat the density problem. Instead, it relies on the fact that if you’re in the middle of nowhere you probably don’t have friends on it to pull you in. Still, that makes it tough for Raya to break into new locales.
But the beauty of the business is that since all users pay $7.99 per month, it doesn’t need that many to earn plenty of money. And at less than the price of a cocktail, the subscription deters trolls without being unaffordable. Morgenstern says, “The most common reason to stop your subscription: I found somebody.” That “success = churn” equation drags on most dating apps. Since Raya has professional networking as well, though, he says some people still continue the subscription even after they find their sweetheart.
“I’m happily in a relationship and I’m excited to use maps,” Morgenstern declares. In that sense, Raya wants to expand those moments in life when you’re eager and open to meet people, like the first days of college. “At Raya we don’t think that’s something that should only happen when you’re single or when you’re 20 or when you move to a new city.”
The bottomless pits of Tinder and LinkedIn can make meeting people online feel haphazard to the point of exhaustion. We’re tribal creatures who haven’t evolved ways to deal with the decision paralysis and the anxiety caused by the paradox of choice. When there’s infinite people to choose from, we freeze up, or always wonder if the next one would have been better than the one we picked. Maybe we need Raya-like apps for all sorts of different subcultures beyond the hipsters that dominate its community, as I wrote in my 2015 piece, “Rise Of The Micro-Tinders”. But if Raya’s price and exclusivity lets people be both vulnerable and accountable, it could forge a more civil way to make a connection.
Cambridge Analytica may have usedFacebook’s data to influence your political opinions. But why does least-liked tech company Facebook have all this data about its users in the first place?
Let’s put aside Instagram, WhatsApp and other Facebook products for a minute. Facebook has built the world’s biggest social network. But that’s not what they sell. You’ve probably heard the internet saying “if a product is free, it means that you are the product.”
And it’s particularly true in that case because Facebook is the world’s second biggest advertising company in the world behind Google. During the last quarter of 2017, Facebook reported $12.97 billion in revenue, including $12.78 billion from ads.
That’s 98.5 percent of Facebook’s revenue coming from ads.
Ads aren’t necessarily a bad thing. But Facebook has reached ad saturation in the newsfeed. So the company has two options — creating new products and ad formats, or optimizing those sponsored posts.
Facebook has reached ad saturation in the newsfeed
This isn’t a zero-sum game — Facebook has been doing both at the same time. That’s why you’re seeing more ads on Instagram and Messenger. And that’s also why ads on Facebook seem more relevant than ever.
If Facebook can show you relevant ads and you end up clicking more often on those ads, then advertisers will pay Facebook more money.
So Facebook has been collecting as much personal data about you as possible — it’s all about showing you the best ad. The company knows your interests, what you buy, where you go and who you’re sleeping with.
You can’t hide from Facebook
Facebook’s terms and conditions are a giant lie. They are purposely misleading, too long and too broad. So you can’t just read the company’s terms of service and understand what it knows about you.
That’s why some people have been downloading their Facebook data. You can do it too, it’s quite easy. Just head over to your Facebook settings and click the tiny link that says “Download a copy of your Facebook data.”
In that archive file, you’ll find your photos, your posts, your events, etc. But if you keep digging, you’ll also find your private messages on Messenger (by default, nothing is encrypted).
And if you keep digging a bit more, chances are you’ll also find your entire address book and even metadata about your SMS messages and phone calls.
All of this is by design and you agreed to it. Facebook has unified terms of service and share user data across all its apps and services (except WhatsApp data in Europe for now). So if you follow a clothing brand on Instagram, you could see an ad from this brand on Facebook.com.
Messaging apps are privacy traps
But Facebook has also been using this trick quite a lot with Messenger. You might not remember, but the on-boarding experience on Messenger is really aggressive.
On iOS, the app shows you a fake permission popup to access your address book that says “Ok” or “Learn More”. The company is using a fake popup because you can’t ask for permission twice.
There’s a blinking arrow below the OK button.
If you click on “Learn More”, you get a giant blue button that says “Turn On”. Everything about this screen is misleading and Messenger tries to manipulate your emotions.
“Messenger only works when you have people to talk to,” it says. Nobody wants to be lonely, that’s why Facebook implies that turning on this option will give you friends.
Even worse, it says “if you skip this step, you’ll need to add each contact one-by-one to message them.” This is simply a lie as you can automatically talk to your Facebook friends using Messenger without adding them one-by-one.
The next time you pay for a burrito with your credit card, Facebook will learn about this transaction and match this credit card number with the one you added in Messenger
If you tap on “Not Now”, Messenger will show you a fake notification every now and then to push you to enable contact syncing. If you tap on yes and disable it later, Facebook still keeps all your contacts on its servers.
On Android, you can let Messenger manage your SMS messages. Of course, you guessed it, Facebook uploads all your metadata. Facebook knows who you’re texting, when, how often.
Even if you disable it later, Facebook will keep this data for later reference.
But my favorite thing is probably peer-to-peer payments. In some countries, you can pay back your friends using Messenger. It’s free! You just have to add your card to the app.
It turns out that Facebook also buys data about your offline purchases. The next time you pay for a burrito with your credit card, Facebook will learn about this transaction and match this credit card number with the one you added in Messenger.
In other words, Messenger is a great Trojan horse to learn everything about you.
And the next time an app asks you to share your address book, there’s a 99-percent chance that this app is going to mine your address book to get new users, spam your friends, improve ad targeting and sell email addresses to marketing companies.
I could say the same thing about all the other permission popups on your phone. Be careful when you install an app from the Play Store or open an app for the first time on iOS. It’s easier to enable something if a feature doesn’t work without it than to find out that Facebook knows everything about you.
GDPR to the rescue
There’s one last hope. And that hope is GDPR. I encourage you to read TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas excellent explanation of GDPR to understand what the European regulation is all about.
Many of the misleading things that are currently happening at Facebook will have to change. You can’t force people to opt in like in Messenger. Data collection should be minimized to essential features. And Facebook will have to explain why it needs all this data to its users.
If Facebook doesn’t comply, the company will have to pay up to 4 percent of its global annual turnover. But that doesn’t stop you from actively reclaiming your online privacy right now.
You can’t be invisible on the internet, but you have to be conscious about what’s happening behind your back. Every time a company asks you to tap OK, think about what’s behind this popup. You can’t say that nobody told you.
Tumblr has confirmed that Kremlin trolls were active on its platform during the 2016 US presidential elections.
In a blog post today the social platform writes that it is “taking steps to protect against future interference in our political conversation by state-sponsored propaganda campaigns”.
The company has also started emailing users who interacted with 84 accounts it now says it has linked to the Russian trollfarm, the Internet Research Agency (IRA).
In the blog post it says it identified the accounts last fall — and “notified law enforcement, terminated the accounts, and deleted their original posts”.
“Behind the scenes, we worked with the Department of Justice, and the information we provided helped indict 13 people who worked for the IRA,” it adds.
In an email sent to a user, which was passed to TechCrunch to review, the company informs the individual they “either followed one of  accounts linked to the IRA, or liked or reblogged one of their posts”.
“As part of our commitment to transparency, we want you to know that we uncovered and terminated 84 accounts linked to Internet Research Agency or IRA (a group closely tied to the the Russian government) posing as members of the Tumblr community,” the email begins.
“The IRA engages in electronic disinformation and propaganda campaigns around the world using phony social media accounts. When we uncovered these accounts, we notified law enforcement, terminated the accounts, and deleted their original posts.”
Last month Buzzfeed News — working with researcher, Jonathan Albright, from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University — claimed to have unearthed substantial Kremlin troll activity on Tumblr’s meme-laden platform — identifying what they dubbed as “a powerful, largely unrevealed network of Russian trolls focused on black issues and activism” which they said dated back to early 2015.
The trolls were reported to be using Tumblr to push anti-Clinton messages, including by actively promoting Democrat rival Bernie Sanders.
Decrying racial injustice and police violence in the US was another theme of the Russian-linked content.
Since then The Daily Beast has also reported on leaked data from the IRA which also implied agents at the trollfarm had used Tumblr — and also Reddit — to spread political propaganda to target the 2016 US election.
Those IRA leaks suggested the IRA had created at least 21 Tumblr accounts — and included names replete with slang terms, including some accounts listed in the user email we’ve reviewed.
Tumblr, which is owned by TechCrunch’s parent company Oath, did not respond to an email we sent to their press office last month asking about possible Kremlin activity on its platform.
In today’s public post, the company writes: “As far as we can tell, the IRA-linked accounts were only focused on spreading disinformation in the U.S., and they only posted organic content. We didn’t find any indication that they ran ads.”
As well as emailing affected users, Tumblr says it will be keeping a public record of usernames linked to the IRA or “other state-sponsored disinformation campaigns”.
The full list of 84 Kremlin accounts on its public page is as follows:
4mysquad previously known as: thomascestevez
aaddictedtoblackk previously known as: kathyzunigaoverhere, soaddictedtoblackk
bastardpigeon previously known as: pigeonbastard
bellaxiao previously known as: blogmadworldlove
bestofninegag previously known as: apolicethepolicethings
blackness-by-your-side previously known as: black-galaxy-magic, fullyfurrymiracle, u4guy, ufo-pilot-and-his-sexy-spouse
blacknproud previously known as: in-the-mirror-world, indiebirdsblog, no-place-for-homophobia
cartnsncreal previously known as: feelmydragonballs
delroyheater previously known as: delroyheater32, mastercucumber, scrumptiousluminarytimemachine, sexinstructor666, sexintructor
destinyrush previously known as: delightfullyghostlysong
down-to-venus previously known as: teenageflowerluminary
fedupwithlying previously known as: badgyalforyou
funkycodex previously known as: craftykryptonitedelusion
gentlexnoise previously known as: slakerglitch, superblydopepatrol
gogomrbrown previously known as: go-mrbrown, infectedv0ice, todd-la-death
gottimechillinaround previously known as: howardhenderson
guns4l1fe previously known as: 4lifeme, guns4lifeme, unabashedpolicerunaway
hustleinatrap previously known as: thenaturecanpost, tumblercube
ineverstopexploringblog previously known as: charlenefletcher
info-mix previously known as: americanstatistics, crazypolitician, girlsagainst, illegalmom, just-stat, rochelbarr
joycherryblossom previously known as: joyfullyhappycherryblossom
justmarilynadventure previously known as: justmarylinthings
kingbeardplayer previously known as: kirksgossplayer, placeofminimalthings
massmedear previously known as: massblog021
melanin-diary previously known as: blackjourney2justice, dontshootus, jusslittlestoner
morningwoodz previously known as: 5cubes, bangbangempire, empireofweird, gifemprireohh, innerpicsempire, picsempire
nadiquitegoodatit previously known as: runlovernad
nevaehtyler previously known as: laserenita
noteverythingiswhite previously known as: ashleyfsilver
poligraphme previously known as: poligraphmy
postingwhileblack previously known as: ghettablasta, heygeraldmartinjohanssen, honestinjun, nativewolveshere
rebellloudwiththecrowd previously known as: massivelystrangetyrant
shoutoutworldwide previously known as: blackprideworldwide, krispymentalitycowboy
skullofjustice previously known as: naughtykermit, ryanbutlersstuff, usnationaldebt
somestuff4ya previously known as: somestufffoya, unitedposters
sumchckn previously known as: blondeinpolitics, blvckcommunity, classylgbthomie, hwuudoin, politixblondie
swagintherain previously known as: blacklivesmatterusa, carzwithgirlz
thetrippytrip previously known as: matrixpath, themostpost
thingstolovefor previously known as: the-inner-mirror
this-truly-brutal-world previously known as: awesomewhitepearl, free-mind-and-soul
voteforwest2020 previously known as: mrbadasscat
Tumblr is urging users to be vigilant for ongoing troll activity — linking to a News Literacy Projectchecklist for spotting their tricks, and encouraging people to “be skeptical of things you read” and to use fact-checkers such as Snopes.
It also suggests users step in and “correct the record” when they see others spreading misinformation, regardless of whether they believe it’s being done intentionally or not.
Concluding its email to the user who had unwittingly engaged with 11 of the identified IRA accounts, Tumblr adds: “We deleted the accounts but decided to leave up any reblog chains so that you can curate your own Tumblr to reflect your own personal views and perspectives.
“Democracy requires transparency and an informed electorate and we take our disclosure responsibility very seriously. We’ll be aggressively watching for disinformation campaigns in the future, take the appropriate action, and make sure you know about it.”
Asked how he feels to learn Kremlin trolls had unknowingly infiltrated his Tumblr feeds, the user told us: “It’s unsettling, although maybe not surprising, that we legitimize and signal boost bad actors on social platforms by ‘liking’ or reposting content that doesn’t appear to have any political agenda at first glance.”
Elon Musk apparently wasn’t aware that his company SpaceX had a Facebook page. The SpaceX and Tesla CEO has responded to a comment on Twitter calling for him to take down the SpaceX, Tesla and Elon Musk official pages in support of the #deletefacebook movement by first acknowledging he didn’t know one existed, and then following up with promises that he would indeed take them down.
He’s done just that, as the SpaceX Facebook page is now gone, after having been live earlier today (as you can see from the screenshot included taken at around 12:10 PM ET).
As of this publishing, going to any of the above pages directs you to a message saying “Sorry, this content isn’t available right now” instead. That’s a quick turnaround, since Musk seems only to have found out these pages existed about 20 minutes prior to his taking them all offline.
Musk also responded to another comment on Twitter regarding his own and his companies’ prolific use of Instagram, which is of course owned by Facebook. The prolific entrepreneur noted that Instagram was “borderline,” since FB’s “influence is slowly creeping in,” but it seems like he’s okay with maintaining that presence for now.
Prior to their deletion, both the SpaceX and Tesla pages had over 2.6 million Likes and Follows, and super high engagement rates. You have to wonder whether Musk’s social media management employees cried a little when these went down.
Another usage milestone for messaging platform Telegram: It’s announced passing 200M monthly active users “within the last 30 days”.
The platform passed 100M MAUs back in February 2016, when it held a lavish party at the Mobile World Congress tradeshow in Barcelona to celebrate the metric. At the time it said it was adding 350k new users daily and that there were 15 billion messages generated daily.
Since then Telegram has kept its powder fairly dry on the usage metrics front — presumably waiting to be able to announce 200M.
Its blog post is not revealing of any other details about usage. Rather founder Pavel Durov uses the space to give thanks to Telegram users for getting the company to the milestone, and takes a sideswipe at other “popular apps” which he says — unlike Telegram — monetize via advertising and/or pass data on to third parties.
“Since the day we launched in August 2013 we haven’t disclosed a single byte of our users’ private data to third parties,” he writes (emphasis his). “We operate this way because we don’t regard Telegram as an organization or an app. For us, Telegram is an idea; it is the idea that everyone on this planet has a right to be free.”
We’ve reached out to Durov to see if he’ll give up any more Telegram usage tidbits and will update this post if so.
While he writes confidently now that “Telegram doesn’t… do deals with marketers, data miners or government agencies”, it’s not clear how much longer he’ll be able to stand up that claim — given the legal pressure being applied, for example, in Russia to hand over encryption keys or face being blocked. Telegram has also faced restrictions in Iran.
It told Bloomberg it plans to appeal the Russian ruling in a process that may last into the summer, according to company lawyer, Ramil Akhmetgaliev.
Durov also tweeted that: “Threats to block Telegram unless it gives up private data of its users won’t bear fruit. Telegram will stand for freedom and privacy.”
The firestorm that erupted over Facebook’s decision to ban Cambridge Analytica — and the ensuing revelations that the user data of 50 million Facebook users were accessed by the political consulting and marketing firm without those users’ permission — has slashed Facebook stock and brought calls for regulation for social media companies.
Even as $60 billion of shareholder value disappeared, Zuckerberg and Sandberg remained quiet.
The other piece of information from Sandberg’s CNBC interview was her admission that the company is “open” to government regulation. But even that formulation suggests what is a basic misunderstanding at best and cynical contempt at worst for the role of government in the process of protecting Facebook’s users.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether Facebook is open to regulation or not. If the government and U.S. citizens want more controls, the regulations will come.
And it looks like Facebook’s proposed solution will end up costing the company a pretty penny as well, as it brings in forensic auditors to track who else might have abused the data harvesting permissions that the company had put in place in 2007 and only sunset in 2015.
Before the policy change, companies that aggressively acquired data from Facebook would come in for meetings with the social media company and discuss how the data was being used. One company founder — who was a power user of Facebook data — said that the company’s representatives had told him “If you weren’t pushing the envelope, we wouldn’t respect you.”
Collecting user data before 2015 was actually something the company encouraged, under the banner of increased utility for Facebook users — so that calendars could bring in information about the birthdays of friends, for instance.
Indeed, the Obama campaign used Facebook data from friends in much the same way as Cambridge Analytica, albeit with a far greater degree of transparency.
The issue is that users don’t know where their data went in the years before Facebook shut the door on collection of data from a users’ network of friends in 2015.
That’s what Facebook — and the government — is trying to find out.
The committee also says it has fresh questions for Alexander Nix in light of revelations that hit the headlines at the weekend about how a researcher’s app was used to gather personal information on about 270,000 Facebookers and 50 million of their friends, back in 2015 — data that was passed to CA in violation of Facebook’s policies.
Nix gave evidence to the DCMS committee on February 27, when he claimed: “We do not work with Facebook data, and we do not have Facebook data. We do use Facebook as a platform to advertise, as do all brands and most agencies, or all agencies, I should say. We use Facebook as a means to gather data. We roll out surveys on Facebook that the public can engage with if they elect to.”
That line is one of the claims the committee says it’s keen to press him on now. In a letter to Nix, it writes: “[T]here are a number of inconsistencies in your evidence to us of 27 February, notably your denial that your company received data from the Global Science Research company [aka the firm behind the survey app used by CA to harvest data on 50M Facebook users, according to The Observer].”
“We are also interested in asking you again about your claim that you “do not work with Facebook data, and […] do not have Facebook data,” it continues, warning: “Giving false statements to a Select Committee is a very serious matter.”
The self-styled ‘not a political consultancy’ but “technology-driven marketing firm” (and sometime “campaign consultancy and communication services” company) — which Nix also described in his last evidence session as “not a data miner… a data analytics company” — had its Facebook account suspended late last week for violating Facebook’s platform policies.
The UK’s data protection watchdog, the ICO, has also applied for a warrant to gain access to CA’s offices and servers — accusing the company of failing to hand over information the regulator had requested as part of a wider investigation it’s carrying out into the use of data analytics for political purposes.
We reached out to the company for comment on the DCMS recall. At the time of writing it had not responded.
Below are a few choice segments from Nix’s last evidence session in from of the committee — which we expect he will be asked to revisit should he agree to make a repeat appearance…
Q698 Rebecca Pow:… Could you expand a bit more on what those surveys are, what you are asking people and how you are gathering the data? Do you keep that data on surveys carried out on Facebook or does Facebook keep it?
Alexander Nix: I cannot speak to Facebook, but as far as I am aware the process works a bit like an opinion survey. If I want to find out how many people prefer red cars or yellow cars, I can post that question on Facebook and people can agree. They can opt in to answer a survey and they give their consent and they say, “I prefer a yellow car” and then we can collect that data. That is no different to running a telephone poll or a digital poll or a mail poll or any other form of poll. It is just a platform that allows you to engage with communities.
Q699 Rebecca Pow: Are they a big part of your data-gathering service?
Alexander Nix: When we work for brands, whether it is in the UK or in the US or elsewhere, we often feel the need to probe their customers and find out what they think about particular products or services. We might use Facebook as a means to engage with the general public to gather this data.
Q700 Simon Hart: Let me ask a very quick question on the Facebook survey opt-in option that you were describing. If you are asking somebody what kind of car they prefer and they opt in, does that facilitate access to other data that may be held by Facebook, which is irrelevant to car colour, or is it only the data you collect on car colour that is relevant?Nothing else that is part of the data held by Facebook would be available to you.
Alexander Nix: You are absolutely right—no other data. As far as I am aware, Facebook does not share any of its data. It is what is known as a walled garden, which keep its data—
Q701 Simon Hart: People are not in any way accidently giving you consent to access data other than that that you specifically asked for.
Alexander Nix: That is correct. People are not giving us consent and Facebook does not have a mechanism that allows third parties such as us to access its data on its customers.
Q702 Simon Hart: Even with its customers’ consent.
Alexander Nix: Even with its customers’ consent.
Chair: You said in your letter to me that, “Cambridge Analytica does not gather” data from Facebook.
Alexander Nix: From Facebook?
Alexander Nix: That is correct.
Q718 Chair: The actual quote from the letter is: “On 8 February 2018 Mr Matheson implied that Cambridge Analytica ‘gathers data from users on Facebook.’ Cambridge Analytica does not gather such data.” But from what you said you do, do you not, through the surveys?
Alexander Nix: Yes, I think I can see what has happened here. What we were trying to say in our letter is that we do not gather Facebook data from Facebook users. We can use Facebook as an instrument to go out and run large-scale surveys of the users, but we do not gather Facebook data.
Q719 Chair: By that do you mean that you do not have access to data that is owned by Facebook?
Alexander Nix: Exactly.
Q720 Chair: You acquire data from Facebook users through them engaging with surveys and other things.
Alexander Nix: Exactly right.
Q721 Chair: Is your engagement, either directly or through any associate companies you may have, just through the placing of surveys or are there other tools or games or thingsthat are on Facebook that you use to gather data from Facebook users?
Alexander Nix: No, simply through surveys.
Q729 Chair: In that presentation I think there is a slide on data analytics where you describe that data is sourced from multiple sources and any marketing company will know that there are companies that specialise in data analytics to analyse consumer behaviour. I think on your chart you had logos of different companies. I think Experian was one and Nielsen was one. You had Facebook on there as well. Again, just to confirm on this, is that because you are highlighting the fact that you can gather data from Facebook?
Alexander Nix: Collect data through Facebook—that is exactly right, yes.
Q730 Chair: Does any of your data comes from Global Science Research company?
Alexander Nix: GSR?
Alexander Nix: We had a relationship with GSR. They did some research for us back in 2014. That research proved to be fruitless and so the answer is no.
Q731 Chair: They have not supplied you with data or information?
Alexander Nix: No.
Q732 Chair: Your datasets are not based with information you have received from them?