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Facebook Suspends World’s Largest Data Harvesting Firm Over Kremlin, USG-Linked Contracts

Facebook announced on Friday that it is suspending data analytics firm Crimson Hexagon while it investigates whether the firm’s government contracts are in violation of the social-media giant’s policies on how public data is harvested and shared.

The Boston based firm which uses AI-powered technology developed at Harvard University says it has the largest repository of public social media posts at over one trillion, which also includes content from Twitter and Instagram. 

In recent years, Crimson Hexagon had contracts to analyze public Facebook posts for clients, including several US Government agencies and a Russian nonprofit with ties to the Kremlin, reports the Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter as well as federal procurement data.

In response to questions from The Wall Street Journal this week about its oversight of Crimson Hexagon’s government contracts and its storing of user data, Facebook said Friday it was not aware of some of the contracts. On Friday, it said it was suspending Crimson Hexagon’s apps from Facebook and its Instagram unit, and launching a broad inquiry into how Crimson Hexagon collects, shares and stores user data. –WSJ

A Facebook spokesman said that the company will meet with Crimson Hexagon’s team over the next few days to look into the matter.  

“Facebook has a responsibility to help protect people’s information, which is one of the reasons why we have tightened” access to user data in recent years, according to Facebook VP for product partnerships, Ime Archibong, who added that Facebook allows outside parties to produce “anonymized insights for business purposes.” 

According to Hexagon’s chief technology officer Chris Bingham, “We do not collect private data from social media providers or anyone else.”

Crimson Hexagon was founded in 2007 by political scientist Gary King, director for the Institute of Quantitative Social Science at Harvard, University. While the name of the company is an obvious hat-tip to Harvard, the company’s website says it was based on the “Crimson Hexagon” featured in Jorge Luis Borges’ short story, the Library of Babel. 

The narrator in Borges’ story describes a library of astronomical size, comprised of almost infinite hexagonal-shaped rooms that collectively contain every possible combination of just 23 letters, a space, a period, and a comma. Though most of the books are gibberish, the library also contains every valuable book ever written and that might ever be written.

Similarly, the Crimson Hexagon platform helps brands find valuable meaning in a seemingly infinite volume of unstructured text and images. –Crimson Hexagon