FB sees Russian firms scraping data
Accounts deleted for building facial recognition software
Los Angeles, Oct. 13: Social networking giant Facebook has quietly announced that it removed 66 accounts, pages and apps linked to Russian firms that build facial recognition software for the Russian government.
The social media giant said it removed accounts of SocialDataHub and its sister firm, Fubutech, as the firms violated its policies by scraping data from Facebook.
The US firm said it had reason to believe the Russian firms work for their government and match photos from individuals’ personal social media accounts in order to identify them while sending a cease- and- desist letter to SocialDataHub that was dated Tuesday.
Facebook had given the companies until Friday to detail what data they had taken and then delete it.
SocialDataHub and Fubutech have been around for four years, relying in part on Facebook data to build products that might alarm civil- liberty advocates.
They also present another challenge because, Facebook said, at least some of their data collection occurred through web scraping.
Scraping is a rudimentary technique in which computer programmers can pull information off a website. It is difficult to detect and prevent, Facebook said.
Scraping can pull any data that’s left public on a Facebook profile — and, theoretically, more private data about the user’s Facebook friends.
Artur Khachuyan, the 26- year- old chief executive of SocialDataHub and Fubutech, said in an interview on Friday that Facebook had deleted his companies’ accounts unfairly.
Fubutech does build facial- recognition software for the Russian government and uses Facebook data, but it scrapes Google search results for that information — not Facebook, he said.
And SocialDataHub’s main product — a system that assigns scores to Russian citizens based on their social- media profiles for insurers and banks — required permission from the users it rates, he said.
Khachuyan said he taught Russian journalism students how to scrape the web and that two of them had scraped Facebook for the public profiles of their classmates. He believes Facebook mistook the students’ activity for his companies’ work.
“Maybe it’s a reason to deactivate our accounts,” Khachuyan said. “But I don’t know why Facebook deletes Instagram account of my dog.” That account, for “Mars the Blue Corgi,” had 176 followers.
Katy Dormer, a Facebook spokeswoman, rejected Khachuyan’s claims.