Opening Pandora's Box: Facebook To Brief Congress On What Happened

With its stock crashing, the future of Facebook as an advertising platform has been called into question by marketers, lawmakers and privacy activists following Monday's "revelations" that its data on 50 million users was harvested and used by a political ad firm in 2016. Which is ironic because it has been if not known, then certainly argued for years that Facebook is nothing more than a surveillance company, something Edward Snowden pointed out just this past Monday, with the only question whether or not US spy agencies are also involved in Facebook's user monitoring.

In any case, the pressure on Facebook only escalated on Tuesday as countless US and foreign regulators and politicians demanded Facebook explain what happened.

And, in hopes of quieting down the scandal which has cost the company tens of billions in market cap, the social network has agreed to brief House Judiciary Committee members as soon as Wednesday on the use of personal data of millions of users, Bloomberg reported citing to a congressional official familiar with the discussions.

Democrats on the committee are demanding that Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, schedule a hearing on revelations that the company Cambridge Analytica exploited information from millions of Facebook users without their permission.

Meanwhile, the top Judiciary Committee Democrat Jerrold Nadler of New York wrote Goodlatte that neither Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, nor Brad Parscale - who ran the 2016 Trump campaign’s digital operations and has been named Trump’s campaign manager for 2020 - have responded to Democratic requests for information. Furthermore, Bloomberg adds that the Senate Judiciary Committee also is in the process of scheduling a briefing from Facebook, said George Hartmann, spokesman for Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican.

One wonders, however, if agreeing to explain how it targets, or rather how it allows its (well-paying) advertising clients to target Facebook users, the company is opening a Pandora's Box, as once it emerges that what Cambridge Analytica was doing was also done to some extent by many if not most other Facebook clients, there will be a vast chilling effect among the potential advertiser universe, resulting in either a drop in ad volume or ad pricing, or both, hitting the company's future revenues.

One also wonders if in addition to Cambridge Analytics, the various Congressional Panels will also invite the myriad of other agencies who also abused Facebook data, not least of which the Obama 2012 Campaign, which as we learned last night had an oddly preferential treatment when it comes to its relationship with Facebook.

As we reported last night, Carol Davidsen, who served as Obama's director of integration and media analytics during the 2012 campaign, claimed - with evidence - that Facebook found out about a massive data-mining operation the campaign was conducting to "suck out the whole social graph" in order to target potential voters. After Facebook found out, they knowingly allowed them to continue doing it because they were supportive of the campaign. 

"[M]ore than 1 million Obama backers who signed up for the [Facebook-based app] gave the campaign permission to look at their Facebook friend lists. In an instant, the campaign had a way to see the hidden young voters. Roughly 85% of those without a listed phone number could be found in the uploaded friend lists. What’s more, Facebook offered an ideal way to reach them," reads an article Davidsen posted as a prelude to her postings. 

In a series of Sunday night tweets, Davidsen explained how the Obama campaign was able to use Facebook data to "append to our email lists."

When Facebook found out about the data mining for political purposes - the same thing they just banned Cambridge Analytica for doing, they "didn't stop us."

Facebook even "came to office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn't have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side."  

We are confident that in order to demonstrate impartiality, everyone will be invited to explain how and why they abused Facebook data, not just the Trump campaign but also Obama's. And come to think of it, why not also invite the thousands of other Facebook social-targeters advertisers all of whom do precisely this - to a lesser extent one hopes - when making their decision whom and how to target and influence.