Facebook was successful in getting Cambridge Analytica to delete millions of users’ data back in January 2016, but there’s a twist. The information based on that data appears to have lived much longer. The Guardian obtained leaked emails which suggest that Cambridge Analytica has explicitly avoided agreeing to delete the derivatives of that data – such as predictive personality models. Part of me feels incredibly shocked, but then there’s a part of me that kind of feels like this is how things are these days, and that none of us should be shocked.
Former employees claimed that the company kept that particular data modeling in a “hidden corner” of a server until an audit in March 2017. It only certified that it had scrubbed the data models in April 2017 – half a year after the U.S. presidential election. Why did they need to keep the data in the first place? In a response to the Guardian, a Cambridge Analytica spokesperson has denied that there was a “secret cache”, and it said that it had started looking for and deleting derivatives of the data after the initial wipe. But here’s the catch – it took until April 2017, according to Cambridge Analytica, to fully delete all the data. Noting that it was a “lengthy process”.
This is certainly telling, isn’t it? I mean, they’re either lying and they were keeping the information for some other reason. Or there is so much data that they collected that it took 6 months to delete. Think about that for a moment. I work with large video files for my job and there are times when I have to delete said files. It doesn’t take that long, even though the files are large. Or that I have 10 of them, for example. My point is, the amount of data on that server had to be astronomical if it took 6 months to delete. That, or they’re being shady and not telling you the whole story.
Facebook has already outlined its stance on the subject. In his testimony to the US House of Representatives, company chief Mark Zuckerberg said that Cambridge Analytica “represented to us” that it had deleted models based on the social network’s data. A spokesperson added that Cambridge Analytica claimed all the derivative data was gone in a September 2016 statement from its lawyers. If the scoop is accurate, however, both statements are problematic. Facebook did tell Cambridge Analytica to erase derivatives, but it didn’t double-check that Cambridge Analytica had done exactly that.
Another shady part of this is that attorney’s for Cambridge Analytica had testified that the data had been erased by September 2016, so why did they just claim that it took much longer to delete? This may not mean anything because Cambridge Analytica is closing down, but it does demonstrate a couple of things. To start, this is an extremely messy situation. But it also tells us that Facebook may not have been completely diligent in verifying the data had been destroyed. I’m not sure that we will ever know the truth, regardless of how many stories come forward or how many people try to figure it out.