Facebook confirmed it has suspended a Boston-based social media analytics firm while it investigates how it collects and shares public data.
Crimson Hexagon touts itself as one of the world’s leading providers of insights, drawn from public online data. The firm analyzes public Facebook data for clients, which include a non-profit with ties to the Kremlin and U.S. government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, the Wall Street Journal reports.
After the publication began inquiring about Facebook’s oversight of Crimson Hexagon’s government contracts, the social media site suspended the firm’s apps on Facebook and its Instagram unit so it could take a closer look.
“We are investigating the claims about Crimson Hexagon to see if they violated any of our policies,” Ime Archibong, VP Product Partnerships, said in a statement to Deadline, adding, “Facebook has a responsibility to help protect people’s information.”
Crimson Hexagon has sold its analytics platform in foreign countries, including Russia and Turkey, the Journal reports. It worked for the non-profit Civil Society Development Foundation to study Russians’ opinions about President Vladimir Putin, according to the publication. The government in Turkey also reportedly used the service in making its decision to shut down Twitter in 2014, during a period of dissent.
Facebook doesn’t permit developers to build surveillance tools using information from the social media site or its sibling, Instagram. It doesn’t appear that Crimson Hexigon did anything inappropriate, though Facebook continues to investigate.
“Crimson Hexagon is fully cooperating with Facebook who has publicly stated its investigation to date has found no wrongdoing,” CTO Chris Bingham said in a statement.
Facebook has been working to restore public trust in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal, which revealed millions of users’ private information had been harvested, and used to build software to predict and influence the 2016 election. The social media site has been criticized for reacting too slowly to initial press reports abut information being extracted at an unprecedented sale.
Crimson Hexigon published a blog post, in which the company described what data it has access to and how it’s used. The firm said it sticks to information that anyone can publicly access, and does not collect private data and tried to draw a clear distinction between its behavior and that of Cambridge Analytica.
The analytics site said government contracts comprise a small part of its business, and notes that governments use the insights in the same way as business — to understand the public’s perception, preferences and sentiment about particular issues.
“Under no circumstances is surveillance a permitted use case,” Bingham wrote in the post.
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