FB sees Rus­sian firms scrap­ing data

Ac­counts deleted for build­ing fa­cial recog­ni­tion soft­ware

The Asian Age - - World -

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.

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