Nearly a month after Facebook suspended Crimson Hexagon following a high-profile Wall Street Journal story scrutinizing its contracts with government agencies, the Boston-based data analytics firm has stated that its access to Instagram and Facebook has been restored.
“After several weeks of constructive discussion and information exchange with Facebook, we are very pleased to report that Facebook and Instagram reinstated Crimson Hexagon, and our entire customer base will now be able to once again access those data sources on our platform,” a blog post attributed to chief financial officer Dan Shore read. The post said that many of Facebook’s questions focused on Crimson Hexagon’s government customers, but the post didn’t say specifically what questions Facebook asked about Crimson Hexagon’s government contracts.
“We have reinstated Crimson Hexagon to Facebook following our investigation. We appreciate their cooperation and look forward to working with them in the future,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement emailed to VentureBeat.
The Wall Street Journal was looking into Crimson Hexagon’s recent contracts with U.S. government agencies — including the U.S. State Department and Department of Homeland Security — as well as looking at organizations in Russia and Turkey with ties to their respective governments when Crimson Hexagon was suspended from Facebook.
The Wall Street Journal sent Facebook a series of questions in mid-July about some of Crimson Hexagon’s contracts. Facebook reportedly responded by saying that it wasn’t aware of those contracts, and days later Crimson Hexagon was suspended while Facebook looked into the matter.
Crimson Hexagon only pulls data from public Instagram and Facebook posts, as well as drawing on data from other social platforms, like Twitter. But when used in bulk, that data can provide valuable insights into how groups of people with similar political, social, cultural, or religious interests are behaving.
Particularly concerning was the question of whether some of the entities Crimson Hexagon was working with were using the data for surveillance purposes.That goes against both Facebook and Twitter’s development policies. The Wall Street Journal also reported that Crimson Hexagon nixed at least one potential contract with an agency after Twitter expressed concern about what the data would be used for and how it could be monitored.
Crimson Hexagon said in its statement today that it is not aware of any of instances of data pulled by its firm being used by government agencies for surveillance purposes.
“Over time, we have enhanced our vetting procedures for government customers. Nevertheless, we recognize it is important to go beyond vetting by monitoring these government customers on an ongoing basis to ensure the public’s expectations of privacy are met,” Shore wrote in Crimson Hexagon’s statement, but he didn’t say specifically how the company would be monitoring government customers going forward.
The investigation into Crimson Hexagon came just months after a series of high-profile stories into how U.K. analytics firm Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained Facebook user data.
Following its initial suspension, Crimson Hexagon was quick to push back on any parallels drawn between itself and Cambridge Analytica, stating that “what Cambridge Analytica did was explicitly illegal, while the collection of public data is completely legal and sanctioned by the data providers that Crimson engages with, including Twitter and Facebook, among others.”
However, both instances raised questions about how exactly Facebook is monitoring developers and other third-party firms once they gain access to user data and whether it is doing enough to ensure that they continue to follow the company’s developer policies.
Updated at 7:35 a.m. Pacific Updated with a statement from Facebook.
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