Facebook investigates data firm Crimson Hexagon

F Credit Patrick T. Fallon  Bloomberg

F Credit Patrick T. Fallon Bloomberg

After the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Facebook has now suspended Boston-based data analytics company Crimson Hexagon over concerns that it harvested users' data.

Still, the latest data dust-up is likely to dog Facebook politically months after Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by lawmakers in the USA and Europe when it suspended Cambridge Analytica.

Exactly what Facebook means by "surveillance" isn't clear, but it seems Crimson Hexagon has questions to answer over how aggressively it's been tracking users on Facebook and Instagram. The company monitors social media sentiment for a roster of blue chip clients, and also has links to platforms like Twitter and Tumblr.

Facebook has suspended a Boston analytics firm from its site and says it is investigating whether the company's contracts with the USA government and a Russian non-profit organisation violated policies, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

Facebook has taken steps in lobbying efforts on data security and policy, among other issues. On the other hand, Mark Zuckerberg and his exec team will want to be seen to be being tough on companies that don't follow the rules in regards to harvesting personal information from social media.

Facebook, however, said the firm didn't inappropriately obtain any Facebook or Instagram user data, adding that using the data for surveillance is a violation of the company's policies.

Crimson Hexagon has signed 22 contracts with the USA government worth over $800,000 according to the newspaper, which cites federal procurement data.

Citing people familiar with the business, the paper said the government contracts of Crimson Hexagon, which pulls public data from Facebook, were not approved by Facebook in advance.

"People can share their information with developers on Facebook and Instagram - just as they can when they download an app on their phone", said Ime Archibong, Facebook's head of partnerships. In addition, Crimson Hexagon had contracts with the US government and a non-profit company connected to the Kremlin. We also have APIs so that developers can use public or aggregated information to produce anonymized insights for business purposes.

"Crimson Hexagon only collects publicly available social media data that anyone can access", he wrote, seeking to distance his firm from Cambridge Analytica, the firm which allegedly used an app to scrape private data from the network.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

Crimson Hexagon's Chief Technology Officer Chris Bingham defended the company's work in a blog post on Friday.

The WSJ reported that Crimson Hexagon may have received data it should not have in at least one instance from 2016.

In light of all the headaches that Cambridge Analytica brought to the social media leader, it is little surprise that it is now extra careful with third-party apps, especially those connected to analytics companies.

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