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Digging into Facebook’s data-sharing scandal and potential impact it might have on use

View of the Facebook homepage taken in Washington on May 6, 2012.
View of the Facebook homepage taken in Washington on May 6, 2012.

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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Facebook is facing criticism in the wake of a report alleging that the tech giant misused user data when it allowed a political data firm to harvest information on millions of users.

This time, the story involves a political data firm called Cambridge Analytica, founded by Steve Bannon and wealthy Republican donor Robert Mercer, and its collection of data from Facebook that it said would allow them to figure out people’s personalities in the hopes of influencing their behavior. Using an outside researcher named Aleksandr Kogan, Cambridge paid users a small amount of money to take a quiz and download and app that said it would snag some info from the user’s profile and their friends’ profiles, which Facebook allowed at the time. However, Kogan told Facebook and his app’s users that he was collecting data for academic purposes, not for a political data firm. Facebook executives have jumped to the company’s defense on Twitter, saying that its practices did not constitute a data breach. All of this comes at a time where Facebook is already facing criticism of how its platform was used for Russian propaganda and fake news during the 2016 election.

So, how much did Facebook know about how its data was being used? And how exactly were the researchers using that info? Were their terms of use violated? Does this constitute a data breach?


Josh Constine, editor-at-large for TechCrunch; he’s been following the story; he tweets @JoshConstine

Deepa Seetharaman, tech reporter for the Wall Street Journal who has been following the story; she tweets @dseetharaman