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Facebook data harvesting scandal widens to 87 million people

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Facebook announced on Wednesday that user data for as many as 87 million people may have been “improperly shared” with Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis firm that worked with President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

This is the first time Facebook has publicly quantified the scope of the data harvesting scandal and is considerably more than the previously reported figure of 50 million, which had been an estimate based on accounts from former Cambridge Analytica employees and company documents.

“In total, we believe the Facebook information of up to 87 million people — mostly in the US — may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica,” wrote Mike Schroepfer, chief technology officer of Facebook, in a blog post announcing new rules for how the company plans to share user data.

In addition to changing how it works with connected apps, Facebook has also changed how its “search account and recovery” feature works, which lets people search for users by phone number or email address. Schroepfer wrote that this allowed for accounts to be found and then have their public info “scraped” — an issue that could have affected all of Facebook’s 2.13 billion users. The feature has now been disabled.

“Given the scale and sophistication of the activity we’ve seen, we believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped in this way,” Schroepfer wrote. “So we have now disabled this feature. We’re also making changes to account recovery to reduce the risk of scraping as well.

The data was harvested by Cambridge University researchers through a quiz app that users downloaded and then used their Facebook accounts to access. Cambridge Analytica, a private company not affiliated with the university, was allegedly then able to build a system off that data to target U.S. citizens with political ads based on personality traits.

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Facebook said it will begin notifying users at the top of their News Feeds on Monday, April 9, if their information may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica. Facebook’s 2.13 billion users will also be provided with a link at the top of their feeds to see the apps they use, review the information they share with those apps and steps to remove them, if they choose.

The disclosure comes one week before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to testify for the first time before Congress. The billionaire CEO is set to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 11, where he’ll discuss how the company protects user data.


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