As part of the broader Cambridge Analytica investigation, Facebook also committed to conducting a full audit of all apps which may have misused people’s data before the company introduced more restrictive policies for app creators in 2014.
Prior to these changes, app developers could access a huge amount of Facebook data - as evidenced by the various personality quizzes and similar tools employed by groups like Cambridge Analytica, which mined not only your personal data, but the data of your connections too.
The Social Network has made various changes over the years to better secure user data, but any amount of apps could have accessed such insight prior to those updates – some app developers have found they had access to a broad set of insights without even meaning to get it.
As their examination continues, Facebook has now released an update on what they’ve found so far – and it may not be as reassuring as they might have hoped.
As per Facebook:
“To date thousands of apps have been investigated and around 200 have been suspended pending a thorough investigation into whether they did in fact misuse any data.”
That means that up to 200 different apps may have logged and stored user data, which, when you consider the amount of potential users of each, would greatly expand upon the initial estimate of 87 million accounts affected by the Cambridge Analytica data-mining effort.
Now, how that data may have been used, exactly, is impossible to say – as noted, some developers have acknowledged that they may well have user data sitting on their private servers without their express knowledge, while others may have passed it on to companies, data-traders, or anyone else, potentially.
The main case of misuse we know of is through Cambridge Analytica, which scraped data under the guise of academic research, and there are other apps which have done the same. The issue is that once that data is out there, once it’s been extracted from Facebook’s servers, there’s no way to track its use, and there’s no time limit, necessarily, on how long such insights will still be of value. Information that highlights personality traits and psychological leanings will be as indicative now as it was ten, even twenty years ago – sure, you won’t have such insights on new users that have joined after that, but Facebook had 1.4 billion monthly active users in 2014. That’s a lot of still relevant insight.
But there’s also not much more Facebook can do. They’re examining the information they have, and taking action against potential violations.
“Where we find evidence that these or other apps did misuse data, we will ban them and notify people via this website. It will show people if they or their friends installed an app that misused data before 2015 — just as we did for Cambridge Analytica.”
That website – which currently only notes if your account was accessed by CA – will apparently be updated to cover all potential misuses.
Will that help reassure users? Will that make you feel that your data is now safe in the hands of Zuck and Co.?
Really, we’re already seeing the backlash against the openness of social networks and personal data sharing, with messaging apps now overtaking the more public social networks as the key forms of interaction.
The Cambridge Analytica issue will only exacerbate this, and the further potential breaches revealed by The Social Network’s ongoing investigation will likely push more users away from broadcasting their daily lives, and boost the importance of messaging tools.