Monday, March 19, 2018

Furor grows over Facebook 'data breach' - Rick Moran

by Rick Moran

Facebook was complicit in Cambridge Analytica's data gathering.

On the surface, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica (CA) face-off is fairly straightforward; bi[g] tech vs, big data. But what happens if big tech was in bed with big data? What if Facebook's highly touted "privacy" efforts were nothing but a sham?

And why is the use personal information of 50 million Facebook ac[c]ounts being called "a breach"?

According to the Washington Post, the former privacy manager for Facebook, Sandy Parakilas, called out Facebook, saying "They only banned Kogan and CA yesterday to get in front of the press cycle,” Parakilas said. “During my 16 months at the company, I don’t recall Facebook ever using its audit rights on a developer.”

So the banning is a sham. And if you dig a little further, you find that Facebook actually worked with CA.

Despite Facebook’s concerns in 2015, the social network continued to work with Cambridge Analytica. During the presidential election, Facebook employees assisting Donald Trump’s digital operation worked in the same office as Cambridge Analytica workers, according to a video by the BBC. One former Cambridge employee, Joseph Chancellor, continues to work at Facebook as a user-experience researcher, according to Facebook’s public website.
Until 2015, Facebook allowed developers to use data harvested from apps available on the website. CA developed an app called "Thisisyourdigitallife." It was just one of several interesting apps that "predicted" personality traits based on your "likes" and other social media data.

CA did absolutely nothing wrong when 270,000 Facebook users downloaded the app, giving the company access to not only some personal data of those who downloaded it, but their Facebook "friends" as well. Estimates put the number of Facebook accounts that were mined for data at 50 million.

But the problem is how CA used that data and whether they hung on to it despite promising to delete it.

“This is more evidence that the online political advertising market is essentially the Wild West,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a statement. “Whether it’s allowing Russians to purchase political ads, or extensive microtargeting based on ill-gotten user data, it’s clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency.”

Cambridge Analytica — which was funded by Trump supporter and hedge fund executive Robert Mercer, and once had on its board the president’s former senior adviser Stephen K. Bannon — has denied wrongdoing. The company has said its “psychometric profiles” could predict the personality and political leanings of most U.S. voters.
“We worked with Facebook over this period to ensure that they were satisfied that we had not knowingly breached any of Facebook’s terms of service and also provided a signed statement to confirm that all Facebook data and their derivatives had been deleted,” Cambridge Analytica said in a statement Saturday.
The company’s actions in the United States and abroad have generated scrutiny from government investigators in Britain and the United States, who have been looking at Russian interference in elections.
CA's data gathering operation was legal, but scary. Their claims that they can predict voter behavior are almost certainly grossly exaggerated, if not a bunch of snake oil. What they can do with all that data is find your likes and dislikes and precisely target ads and messages. How much "persuasion" is involved is unknown. For instance, the idea that Russian bought ads on Facebook won the election for Trump is pretty dumb - but it sounds good on TV and makes Hillary Clinton feel better. Whether it's the truth is doubtful.
I think Senator Warner is right. The sort of data mining is frightening when all things are considered. Facebook should suffer the consequences of their lax privacy policies and change them to make it harder for developers to access the kinds of data that Cambridge Analytica was able to utilize.

Rick Moran


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