Nearly a month after being suspended by Facebook following a high-profile Wall Street Journal story scrutinizing its contracts with government agencies, Boston-based data analytics firm Crimson Hexagon stated that its access to Instagram and Facebook have been restored.
“After several weeks of constructive discussion and information exchange with Facebook, we are very pleased to report that Facebook and Instagram reinstated Crimson Hexagon and our entire customer base will now be able to once again access those data sources on our platform,” a blog post attributed to chief financial officer Dan Shore read. The post said that many of Facebook’s questions focused on Crimson Hexagon’s government customers, but didn’t say specifically what Facebook asked about Crimson Hexagon’s government contracts.
The Wall Street Journal was looking into Crimson Hexagon’s recent contracts with U.S. government agencies — including the U.S. State Department and Department of Homeland Security — as well as organizations in Russia and Turkey with ties to their respective governments when it was suspended from Facebook.
The Journal sent Facebook a series of questions in mid-July about some of Crimson Hexagon’s contracts. Facebook replied that it wasn’t aware of those contracts, and days later, Crimson Hexagon was suspended until Facebook could ask Crimson Hexagon more about the contracts.
Crimson Hexagon only pulls data from public Instagram and Facebook posts, as well as from other social platforms like Twitter. But when used in bulk, that data can provide valuable insights into how groups of people with similar political, social, cultural, or religious interests are behaving. Of particular concern was that some of the entities Crimson Hexagon was working with were using the data for surveillance purposes.
That goes against both Facebook and Twitter’s development policies. The Journal also reported that Crimson Hexagon nixed at least one potential contract with an agency after Twitter expressed concern about what the data would be used for and how it could be monitored.
Crimson Hexagon said in its statement today that it is not aware of any of instances of government agencies using data pulled by Crimson Hexagon for surveillance purposes.
“Over time we have enhanced our vetting procedures for government customers. Nevertheless, we recognize it is important to go beyond vetting by monitoring these government customers on an ongoing basis to ensure the public’s expectations of privacy are met,” Shore wrote in Crimson Hexagon’s statement, but didn’t say specifically how it would be monitoring government customers going forward.
The investigation into Crimson Hexagon came just months after a series of high-profile stories into how U.K. analytics firm Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained Facebook user data.
Following its initial suspension, Crimson Hexagon was quick to push back on any parallels drawn between itself and Cambridge Analytica, stating that “what Cambridge Analytica did was explicitly illegal, while the collection of public data is completely legal and sanctioned by the data providers that Crimson engages with, including Twitter and Facebook, among others.”
However, both instances raised questions about how exactly Facebook is monitoring developers and other third-party firms once they gain access to user data, to ensure that they continue to follow the company’s developer policies.
VentureBeat has reached out to Crimson Hexagon and Facebook for further comment, and will update this story if we hear back.