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Cambridge Analytica scandal may have affected much more than the 87 million users claimed by Facebook

A former employee-turned-whistleblower for the company suggests that the number could be greater than the 87 million users claimed by Facebook.

  • Published: April 18, 2018 3:11 PM IST
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Ahead of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony to the US Congress, Facebook revealed that the number of users affected by the Cambridge Analytica scandal is 87 million. The number was more than the 50 million people previously reported by media outlets. Now, a new revelation suggests that the actual number of people whose data was harvested by Cambridge Analytica could actually be more than 87 million.

Speaking to the UK Commons digital, culture, media and sport select committee, former Cambridge Analytica employee Brittany Kaiser said that the big data firm may have harvested data of far more than 87 million people. She confirmed that Cambridge Analytica had a suite of personality quizzes designed to extract personal data of Facebook users. The app at the center of this controversy, This Is Your Digital Life designed by Aleksandr Kogan, she says was just one example.

It was revealed last month that Kogan tricked Facebook users with his app that had the ability to scrape public data of all those who participated in the app and used a loophole in the social network’s algorithm to acquire data of their friends as well. Testifying to the committee, Zuckerberg said that his own personal data was compromised by the application.

Kaiser told the UK watchdog that Cambridge Analytica and its partners did a wide range of surveys similar to Kogan’s This Is Your Digital Life using Facebook login. She particularly pointed out the Sex Compass quiz designed to scrape user data. “The Kogan/GSR datasets and questionnaires were not the only Facebook-connected questionnaires and datasets which Cambridge Analytica used. I am aware in a general sense of a wide range of surveys which were done by CA or its partners, usually with a Facebook login – for example, the ‘sex compass’ quiz,” Kaiser wrote in evidence to the committee.

While she claimed to not know the specifics of these surveys conducted by Cambridge Analytica, she does believe that her former employer might have access to data of more than just the 87 million Facebook users claimed earlier. One of the crucial revelations in Kaiser’s testimony is the fact that the company pitched itself as a data harvesting company to potential clients.

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“In my pitches I used to give examples, even to clients, that if you go on Facebook and you see these viral personality quizzes, that not all of them would be designed by Cambridge Analytica, SCL group or our affiliates, but these applications were designed specifically to harvest data from individuals using Facebook as the tool,” Kaiser told UK committee.

Kaiser’s testimony to the UK committee confirms that Cambridge Analytica used at least two quizzes – Sex Compass and This Is Your Digital Life – to scrape data of Facebook users. It is also evident that the firm might have run many other such apps with the only intention of harvesting data of Facebook users.

At the Congressional hearing, Zuckerberg told Senators that the company is investigating all apps that had access to a large amount of data before it changed platform to reduce data access in 2014. “We will conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity. And if we find developers that misused personally identifiable information, we will ban them and tell everyone affected,” Facebook told the Guardian.

The harsh reality of this Cambridge Analytica scandal is the fact that Facebook was caught unaware of this data breach happening on its platform. Zuckerberg told that the company asked Kogan to stop gathering user data as soon as it found out in 2015 and took Kogan for his word. Facebook’s inability to protect its platform and data of over 2 billion users has caught attention of regulators around the world and it could soon face serious regulation in the ways it handles user privacy and data shared with advertisers on the platform.

  • Published Date: April 18, 2018 3:11 PM IST