Facebook refutes MP claims it knew about Russian data harvesting in 2014

After some confusion, it appears claims that Facebook knew about Russian data harvesting in 2014 appear to be false

Earlier this week, IT Pro reported the seizure of Facebook documents by Parliament's Serjeant at Arms in a London hotel. In a review of the seized documents, one British lawmaker has revealed Facebook knew about Russia's data harvesting as early as 2014.

In an internal email from a Facebook engineer, one of the documents that were seized by Parliament from the founder of Six4Three, reportedly contained information which highlights suspicious activity from Russian-based entities relating to the exploitation of a feature which allowed them to harvest large amounts of data.

Facebook had previously maintained that they were only aware of the data harvesting in 2016, after the US election had taken place. But, Damian Collins who heads the committee of British lawmakers which compelled the founder of Six4Three to hand over the documents it acquired in legal discovery, said the company was aware of Russia's conduct two years before.

Collins and his committee conducted a hearing on Tuesday in which Richard Allen, vice president of policy solutions at Facebook said in his testimony that he would not discuss the documents, Bloomberg reports.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement - Article continues below

During the hearing, to which Mark Zuckerberg didn't attend, Allen was lambasted by all in attendance with many asking him why he attended instead of Zuckerberg. Allen admitted that Facebook had abused public trust and said Facebook would accept a little more regulation.

Since these reports, Facebook has issued IT Pro a series of redacted emails which seem to verify its claims that an investigation into potential Russian data harvesting were taken out of context. In a series of exchanges, the emails show that a mass of calls were made to Facebook APIs but didn't come from Russian-linked entities after all, instead, they all came from Pinterest.

The emails show that, at the time, Pinterest was migrating to a new version of their API which potentially caused a massive spike in the calls it was making to Facebook. "You'll see we looked into this at the time and determined that the calls to the API were all legitimate API calls from Pinterest and not from Russia," said a Facebook spokesperson. "We also determined the volume of actual calls to be around 6m and that the suggestion of 'billions' was inaccurate."

One of the earlier emails in the chain suggested that three billion calls were being made per day when in reality only six million successful calls were made as well as 40 million unsuccessful ones.

So it seems the situation has been blown out of proportion, Facebook wasn't actually being targeted by Russians in 2014, two years before they said they became aware of actual Russian data meddling.

After the nightmarish year its PR department has had, this comes a breath of a fresh air. This is, however, only the first of the seized documents that have been covered by the media, there is still the possibility that the documents hold key details about Facebook's knowledge of its potential privacy flaws in 2016.

Featured Resources

What you need to know about migrating to SAP S/4HANA

Factors to assess how and when to begin migration

Download now

Your enterprise cloud solutions guide

Infrastructure designed to meet your company's IT needs for next-generation cloud applications

Download now

Testing for compliance just became easier

How you can use technology to ensure compliance in your organisation

Download now

Best practices for implementing security awareness training

How to develop a security awareness programme that will actually change behaviour

Download now


Policy & legislation

Irish Data Protection Commission has questions for Facebook

29 Jan 2019
internet security

Facebook exec calls Cambridge Analytica scandal a "non event"

8 Jan 2020

Facebook apps dominated this decade's mobile market

18 Dec 2019
digital currency

China prepares to launch the first domestic cryptocurrency

6 Nov 2019

Most Popular

Microsoft Windows

What to do if you're still running Windows 7

14 Jan 2020
data governance

Brexit security talks under threat after UK accused of illegally copying Schengen data

10 Jan 2020
operating systems

17 Windows 10 problems - and how to fix them

13 Jan 2020

Dell XPS 13 (New 9300) hands-on review: Chasing perfection

14 Jan 2020