London: Facebook Inc. knew that Russian-linked entities were using a feature on the social network that let advertisers to harvest large amounts of data as early as October 2014, according to an internal email a UK lawmaker said he had reviewed.
Previously, Facebook has said it was unaware of this sort of Russian activity on the social network until after the 2016 election.
Damian Collins, head of a committee of British lawmakers investigating the impact of fake news, said he had reviewed an email from a Facebook engineer highlighting suspicious Russian-linked data harvesting on Facebook two years before that.
Collins’ committee obtained the email after it compelled the founder of a US software company, Six4Three, to hand over a large cache of documents during a business trip to London. The Six4Three founder had obtained the documents as part of a legal discovery process in a lawsuit against Facebook that his company has brought against the social network in California.
Facebook said that the document cited by Collins was taken out of context. ‘The engineers who had flagged these initial concerns subsequently looked into this further and found no evidence of specific Russian activity,’ the company said in an email to Bloomberg Tuesday.
Richard Allan, vice president of policy solutions at Facebook, said in testimony before Collins’ committee Tuesday that he would not discuss the documents, which have been sealed by the California court. Collins said his committee would not release the full cache of documents ‘at this time.’
Lawmakers from the UK and other nations lambasted Facebook during the hearing for abusing public trust and failing to provide honest answers to questions about the misuse of user data.
The lawmakers had wanted Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s founder and chief executive officer, to appear as well, and they repeatedly hammered Allan over the company’s decision not to send the CEO to testify.
The committee laid out a place card marked “Mark Zuckerberg,” which remained unoccupied during the hearing.
‘I have a role supporting my company as it tries to grapple with the issues we are discussing today and when we are trying to decide where senior officers of the company should be, we need to balance that out,’ Allan said in response to repeated questions about why he was appearing instead of Zuckerberg.