SEC deposition shows Zuckerberg misled Congress about Cambridge Analytica timeline

In 2019, Zuckerberg told Congress he found out about the firm in 2018.

Erin Scott / Reuters

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg misled Congress and the American public about how early he knew about the threat Cambridge Analytica posed to Facebook user privacy, according to a newly published US Securities and Exchange Commission document. The sworn deposition was obtained by Zamaan Qureshi, a policy advisor with the Real Facebook Oversight Board.

On February 19th, 2019, Zuckerberg told the SEC he was aware of Cambridge Analytica at least as early as 2017. At the start of that year, Zuckerberg sent an email to Facebook staff asking about an article Motherboard published about the data firm. The Vice News outlet was one of the first English-language publications to detail Cambridge Analytica's use of online data to build psychographic profiles.

The SEC asked Zuckerberg if that was the first time he had become aware of the firm. "I think that's probably right," he told the Commission. "My guess is I heard of them before. And that this was after seeing a couple of mentions of what they were claiming to do, I wanted to ask people who I trusted what their assessment was."

Zuckerberg also considered explicitly calling out Cambridge Analytica in a statement he made about Facebook's attempts to combat Russian election meddling in the fall of 2017. His first draft called for him to state: "We are already looking into foreign actors including Russian intelligence actors in other Soviet states and organizations like Cambridge Analytica.” However, on the day of the livestream, he at best alluded to the firm, saying Facebook was investigating "organizations like the campaigns, to further our understanding of how they used our tools.”

The timeline Zuckerberg provided to the SEC contradicts the one he gave during sworn testimony before the House Financial Services Committee on October 23rd, 2019. "I'm not sure of the exact time, but it was probably around the time it became public, I think it was around March of 2018. I could be wrong, though," he told Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

When asked to comment on Real Facebook Oversight Board's findings, Meta pointed Engadget to its 2019 Federal Trade Commission settlement, which saw the company agree to pay $5 billion in financial penalties and implement new privacy measures. “This has been a settled case for over three years," a Meta spokesperson added. The office of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did not immediately respond to Engadget's comment request.

The findings are likely to prompt new questions about Facebook's handling of Cambridge Analytica. To this day, the scandal is the largest in Meta's history. The data firm harvested information from as many as 87 million Facebook profiles and may have passed on that data to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and the Brexit campaign.

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