The Industry

Congress Needs to Ask Zuckerberg if Facebook Still Employs a Researcher Who Siphoned User Data for Cambridge Analytica

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10:  Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg, 33, was called to testify after it was reported that 87 million Facebook users had their personal information harvested by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm linked to the Trump campaign.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Round 2.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg has one more day of testimony scheduled in Congress, where he’s sitting down in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday morning. There are at least two important question that the senators grilling him didn’t ask yesterday, and which the House members should: Does Joseph Chancellor still work at Facebook, and if so why?

According to the company’s website, Joseph Chancellor is an employee of Facebook, where he works as a human-computer interaction researcher. But before getting the Facebook gig, Chancellor had another job in the U.K., where he was a founding director of Global Science Research, the firm hired by the Trump campaign’s data-targeting firm, Cambridge Analytica, to harvest Facebook user data for its voter-outreach operation. Chancellor started GSR with Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge psychology professor who built the app “This is Your Digital Life,” which was used to the scrape profile data of 87 million Facebook users on behalf of Cambridge Analytica, according to the United Kingdom’s registry of companies. Kogan and Chancellor founded GSR in May 2014 and, just weeks later in June 2014, according to reporting in the New York Times, the outfit accepted a contract for $800,000 to build the app for Cambridge Analytica.

Slate reported the connection last month, and the fact that Chancellor still appears to work at Facebook. The Intercept was the first to report, in 2017, that Facebook had hired the researcher. Although until a few years ago, Facebook allowed developers to scrape tremendous amounts of user data off the platform and Kogan and Chancellor were merely taking advantage of that, they weren’t supposed to hand that data over to anyone else, which is exactly what the pair did.

This is worth pressing, even if Zuckerberg dismisses the question as relating to a “personnel matter.” If Facebook wasn’t aware of Chancellor’s background with Kogan, then the company should investigate who else among its ranks have a history of inappropriately siphoning off user data on behalf of political consultancy firms or other clients. If Facebook was aware of Chancellor’s past work and still allows him to work there, then it’ll be a bit harder to believe that Facebook truly cared about the potential consequences of its porous, potentially harmful data-sharing practices.

Read more from Slate on Cambridge Analytica.