So­cial me­dia pri­vacy

How the so­cial me­dia gi­ant has found it­self mixed up in a se­ri­ous data breach

Mac|Life - - CONTENTS - BY Alex Sum­mersby

The data-min­ing scan haunt­ing Face­book.

Face­book has pub­licly apol­o­gized af­ter ad­mit­ting that the in­for­ma­tion of tens of mil­lions of users was ap­par­ently used with­out their con­sent.

In mid 2014, Alek­sandr Ko­gan de­vel­oped a per­son­al­ity test app, “this is your dig­i­tal life ,” which was made avail­able on Face­book and down­loaded by about 270,000 peo­ple. The app col­lected data about them and their Face­book friends, a to­tal of as many as 50 mil­lion peo­ple. This was per­mit­ted un­der Face­book rules at the time, but only for spe­cific pur­poses. How­ever, al­though Ko­gan’s app claimed the data would be used for aca­demic re­search only, he passed it on to a con­sul­tancy com­pany called Cambridge An­a­lyt­ica (CA).

CA used “psy­cho­graphic pro­files” built from the har­vested data to send mi­cro­tar­geted po­lit­i­cal mes­sages to iden­ti­fied vot­ers as part of Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz’s 2016 Pres­i­den­tial pri­mary cam­paign and then the Trump cam­paign.

It is un­proven whether these cam­paigns had any in­flu­ence on the out­come of the elec­tion, but Face­book founder Mark Zucker­berg took out ads in US and UK news­pa­pers to apol­o­gize for the use of this data, say­ing it was “a breach of trust.”

In an ear­lier post, he also pointed out that Face­book changed its rules in 2014 to pro­hibit apps like Ko­gan’s from gath­er­ing data about a user’s friends with­out au­tho­riza­tion. He also said that in 2015, when it learned that Ko­gan had shared data with CA, Face­book banned Ko­gan’s app and de­manded that he and CA delete “all im­prop­erly ac­quired data.”

How­ever, whistle­blower Christo­pher Wylie, then a CA em­ployee, told The Guardian that Face­book did not press for a response when its let­ter to CA ini­tially went unan­swered, nor did Face­book fol­low up with checks on com­put­ers or stor­age.

Zucker­berg said Face­book learned from the me­dia only in mid-March 2018 that CA “may not have deleted the data as they had cer­ti­fied. This was a breach of trust between Ko­gan, CA and Face­book,” Zucker­berg said. “But it was also a breach of trust between Face­book and the peo­ple who share their data with us and ex­pect us to pro­tect it. We need to fix that.”

Ac­cord­ing to Zucker­berg, CA claims it has deleted the data in ques­tion. Face­book also plans to “in­ves­ti­gate all apps that had ac­cess to large amounts of in­for­ma­tion” be­fore the rules changed in 2014.” Plus, Face­book will re­strict devel­op­ers’ ac­cess to data fur­ther, and add a more prom­i­nent tool for con­trol­ling pri­vacy set­tings and app per­mis­sions within Face­book.

CA is cur­rently un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion on both sides of the At­lantic. Zucker­berg said Face­book is co­op­er­at­ing with in­ves­ti­ga­tors, but the com­pany is fac­ing a lot of ques­tions about data pro­tec­tion.

Ap­ple CEO Tim Cook said that user pro­fil­ing and data col­lec­tion were now so ex­ten­sive that “prob­a­bly some well­crafted reg­u­la­tion is nec­es­sary.” He also said that Ap­ple has al­ways made a point of not mon­e­tiz­ing user con­tent or col­lect­ing more in­for­ma­tion than nec­es­sary.

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