Sheryl Sandberg says Facebook knew about Cambridge Analytica two-and-a-half years ago but they didn't check

  • Facebook knew Cambridge Analytica was mishandling user data two-and-a-half years ago, COO Sheryl Sandberg told NBC.
  • But when the company discovered the problem, execs relied on CA's assurances that they had deleted the data.
  • The company could have done an audit, but did not, she said.
  • "To this day, we still don’t know what data Cambridge Analytica have," she told the Financial Times. "We made mistakes and I own them and they are on me."


Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told NBC's Today show that the company knew Cambridge Analytica had mishandled users' data two-and-a-half years ago, but failed to check any further after CA assured them the data had been deleted.

Had Facebook audited CA's data holdings, Facebook could have prevented the privacy scandal that has derailed the company, Sandberg told Today's Savannah Guthrie.

CA is under investigation in both the US and the UK for the way it harvested 87 million users' data from Facebook and then used that to target voters on behalf of President Trump's election campaign in the US and the Brexit referendum in the UK.

When asked why Facebook didn't check what was going on with CA when it first learned that it was abusing user data back in 2016, Sandberg told Guthrie: "You are right we could have done this two-and-a-half years ago ... We thought the data had been deleted and we should have checked."

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A man fixes posters depicting Cambridge Analytica's CEO Alexander Nix behind bars, with the slogan 'Our Data Not His. Go Straight To Jail' to the entrance of the company's offices in central London on March 20, 2018. The European Parliament on Tuesday invited Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg to speak following revelations that a firm working for Donald Trump's US presidential campaign harvested data on 50 million users. Facebook has faced worldwide criticism over the claims that Cambridge Analytica, the UK data analysis firm hired by Trump's 2016 campaign, harvested and misused data on 50 million members. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 20: In this photo illustration the logo of the strategic communication company 'Cambridge Analytica' is seen on the screen of an iPhone in front of a computer screen showing a Facebook logo on March 20, 2018 in Paris, France. Cambridge Analytica is accused of collecting the personal information of 50 million users of the Facebook social network without their consent and would have used it to develop software to predict and influence voter voting during the campaign American election according to the New York Times and the Guardian. Facebook share price fell by more than 5% Monday shortly after the opening of Wall Street. (Photo Illustration by Chesnot/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 20: A protester called Heiko Khoo sticks posters of Alexander Nix behind bars onto the windows of the offices in a demonstration against Cambridge Analytica on March 20, 2018 in London, England. PHOTOGRAPH BY Matthew Chattle / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read Matthew Chattle / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower who formerly worked with Cambridge Analytica, the consulting firm that is said to have harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users, speaks at the Frontline Club in London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A man films Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower who formerly worked with Cambridge Analytica, the consulting firm that is said to have harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users, for a Facebook live cast as he speaks at the Frontline Club in London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower who formerly worked with Cambridge Analytica, the consulting firm that is said to have harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users, arrives at the Frontline Club in London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A man wheels storage crates from the building that houses the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
People walk past the building housing the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
People walk past the building housing the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica arrives at the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A man films Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower who formerly worked with Cambridge Analytica, the consulting firm that is said to have harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users, for a Facebook live cast as he speaks at the Frontline Club in London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 19: Traders and financial professionals work ahead of the closing bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), March 19, 2018 in New York City. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped over 330 points on Monday. Shares of Facebook dropped nearly 7 percent after news broke that analytics firm Cambridge Analytica was able to collect information on 50 million people's Facebook profiles without their consent. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 20: In this photo illustration the logo of the strategic communication company 'Cambridge Analytica' is seen on the screen of an iPhone on March 20, 2018 in Paris, France. Cambridge Analytica is accused of collecting the personal information of 50 million users of the Facebook social network without their consent and would have used it to develop software to predict and influence voter voting during the campaign American election according to the New York Times and the Guardian. Facebook share price fell by more than 5% Monday shortly after the opening of Wall Street. (Photo Illustration by Chesnot/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 19: Traders and financial professionals work ahead of the closing bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), March 19, 2018 in New York City. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped over 330 points on Monday. Shares of Facebook dropped nearly 7 percent after news broke that analytics firm Cambridge Analytica was able to collect information on 50 million people's Facebook profiles without their consent. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
HOLBORN, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 20: Chief executive of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix arrives at the office near Holborn on March 20, 2018 in Holborn, England. PHOTOGRAPH BY Matthew Chattle / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read Matthew Chattle / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
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"We thought it had been deleted because they gave us assurances, and it wasn't until other people told us it wasn't true but ... we had legal assurances from them that they deleted. But what we didn't do was the next step of an audit and we're trying to do that now."

Sandberg also said, in a different interview, that Facebook cannot conduct such an audit because it must wait for the UK information commissioner to finishes its investigation of CA's election activity. "To this day, we still don’t know what data Cambridge Analytica have," she told the Financial Times.

Sandberg, like CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has been doing a media apology tour for the company's failings. "We made mistakes and I own them and they are on me," she told the FT.

"There are operational things that we need to change in this company and we are changing them ... We have to learn from our mistakes and we need to take action," she said.

She also revealed that Facebook would introduce in America similar privacy standards to those that will be enforced in Europe later this year under the EU's new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and ePrivacy laws.

The two laws require companies get affirmative opt-in permission from every user for every piece of data any company keeps or processes.

The permission process will come as a shock to Facebook users because it will force Facebook to tell them exactly what data it holds on them and who it shares that data with; and it will force users to examine whether they want that level of information sharing to continue.

"Europe was ahead on this," she told the FT.

Most observers expect a measurable reduction in user sharing and engagement to occur once the new rules come into effect.

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