Facebook suspends data analytical firm Crimson Hexagon; firm has collected over one trillion posts

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Facebook has suspended the account of another social media analytical firm. On Friday, the Wall Street Journal said that the social networking site had suspended the Facebook and Instagram accounts belonging to Boston based Crimson Hexagon. Facebook is investigating whether the company violated the platform's policies in regards to the collection, sharing and storing of user data. In addition, Crimson Hexagon had contracts with the U.S. government and a non-profit company connected to the Kremlin.

Unlike Cambridge Analytica, which dealt in the profiles of Facebook users without obtaining their permission (click on the video at the top of this article), Crimson Hexagon collects publicly posted social media messages and analyzes them for its clients, seeking to get an idea of what the public thinks about certain matters. The company says it has a collection of more than one trillion posts from apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Facebook allows outside firms to use "anonymized insights for business purposes," but not for surveillance.

Most Americans are unaware that their public posts are analyzed to help determine where advertising or political messages will go over the best/worst. And unlike the collection and use of users' profiles without permission, the collection of public posts (up to a certain number) does not appear to violate the regulations of social networking platforms. In fact, Crimson Hexagon pays Twitter for access to a large amount of tweets; considering that Facebook has restrictions on the amount of data that can be collected by third parties, Crimson Hexagon collects more data from Twitter than from Facebook.

The company's website lists these benefits of being a Crimson Hexagon client:

  • Better understand target audiences-explore audience segments, find new audience interests, and identify opportunities with data at the post and aggregate levels.
  • Track purchase intent-understand when, where, and how consumers speak about purchasing your product or category, and track changes over time.
  • Evaluate campaign impact-assess whether your latest creative generate social buzz, and review which interest segments the campaign resonated with most.
  • Analyze product launch response-determine what motivated consumers to buy, and find ideas for how can you be more impactful in the future.
  • Benchmark against competitors-look at sentiment, share of voice, compare audience segments and more – all with a few key strokes.
As with Cambridge Analytica, there is a Russian aspect to the company. According to the Journal, Crimson Hexagon has sold its proprietary analytics platform to several foreign countries including Russia. In 2014, it did business with a non-profit organization called Civil Society Development Foundation which reportedly has ties to the Kremlin. Crimson Hexagon's data was used by the non-profit firm to study the Russian people's opinion of the job being done by Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the report.

Crimson Hexagon has signed 22 contracts with the U.S. government worth over $800,000 according to the newspaper, which cites federal procurement data. The State Department uses the service "to identify and analyze trends in publicly available social and digital media data." Besides the methods used by Crimson Hexagon to collect and store Facebook posts, it is these contracts with the U.S. and foreign governments that concern Facebook. The latter says that it was not informed about them.

Facebook plans to meet with Crimson Hexagon officials over the next few days. For now, the company's Facebook and Instagram accounts are frozen.

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