87m Face­book users wake up to per­sonal data leak

The East African - - OUTLOOK - A JOINT RE­PORT New York Times News Ser­vice

FACE­BOOK HAS owned up that po­lit­i­cal data firm Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica im­prop­erly har­vested the pub­lic pro­file data of up to 87 mil­lion of its users, in­clud­ing their po­lit­i­cal be­liefs, in­ter­ests and friends’ in­for­ma­tion.

Now the so­cial net­work has re­vealed that the ex­tent of the har­vest­ing went even fur­ther — it in­cluded peo­ple’s pri­vate mes­sages, too.

On Mon­day, Face­book be­gan in­form­ing peo­ple whose data may have been com­pro­mised by Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica through an app de­vel­oped by re­searcher Alexan­der Ko­gan.

Face­book said that while the in­for­ma­tion har­vested was largely lim­ited to what was on peo­ple’s pub­lic pro­files, “a small num­ber of peo­ple” also shared in­for­ma­tion from their Face­book time­line, posts and mes­sages.

Face­book did not spec­ify how many peo­ple’s mes­sages were gath­ered and said it was tak­ing as broad a view as pos­si­ble when no­ti­fy­ing peo­ple that their data may have been taken.

The rev­e­la­tion widens the scope of data that was har­vested from peo­ple on Face­book and how it went be­yond what was pub­licly avail­able. The de­vel­op­ment may have pro­vided grist to law­mak­ers on the day Mark Zucker­berg, Face­book’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, was grilled on Capi­tol Hill over data pri­vacy and other mat­ters, such as Rus­sian mis­use of the so­cial net­work to in­flu­ence the 2016 elec­tion.

Zucker­berg ad­dressed th­ese prob­lems in con­gres­sional hear­ings last week. Face­book faces pos­si­ble reg­u­la­tion and other changes amid a back­lash over the lack of data pri­vacy.

The Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica out­cry was trig­gered af­ter The New York Times and oth­ers re­ported last month that a quiz app made by Mr Ko­gan had col­lected in­for­ma­tion on Face­book users. That in­for­ma­tion was then used by Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica to build psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files of vot­ers in the United States and oth­ers.

It is not clear whether the di­rect mes­sages were among the data even­tu­ally pro­vided to Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica. Last Tues­day, Mr Ko­gan told The New York Times that the pri­vate mes­sages were har­vested from a lim­ited num­ber of peo­ple, likely “a cou­ple thou­sand,” as part of a sep­a­rate aca­demic re­search project and never pro­vided to Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica.

He said the mes­sages were col­lected as part of re­search that he con­ducted at Cam­bridge Univer­sity in 2013 and the first half of 2014, be­fore he be­gan work­ing with Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica. The mes­sages were col­lected for re­search into how peo­ple use emo­jis to con­vey emo­tions.

Mr Ko­gan’s Face­book app took data from peo­ple who took his ques­tion­naire and from all their friends. But the data did not in­clude pri­vate mes­sages — it in­cluded only names, birth dates, lo­ca­tions and pages the users had liked.

Pic­ture: AFP

Face­book co-founder, chair­man and CEO Mark Zucker­berg tes­ti­fies be­fore law­mak­ers in Wash­ing­ton last week.

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