Facebook’s petty response to data saga

FACEBOOK remains in damage control in the face of global criticism over how a third party allegedly used data from 50 million user profiles to target them with messages to sway political elections.

The story has rocked the social media giant which is having its worst week since going public in 2012.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has remained silent and was reportedly AWOL during a crisis meeting at the company's HQ this week to talk about its role in the scandal.

Another whistleblower has since come forward saying the data analysis firm at the centre of the firestorm, Cambridge Analytica, is far from the only such company to have harvested the data of unwitting Facebook users.

Sandy Parakilas, the platform operations manager at Facebook responsible for policing data breaches by third-party software developers between 2011 and 2012 told The Guardian Tuesday that hundreds of millions of Facebook users are likely to have had their private information exploited in the same manner.

"My concerns were that all of the data that left Facebook servers to developers could not be monitored by Facebook, so we had no idea what developers were doing with the data," he said.

The former employee said he "always assumed there was something of a black market" for Facebook data given to third party developers but company execs preferred not to know about it.

His comments are by no means revelatory but they come at a time when the public is more eager than ever to sit up and take notice.

A wave of people have taken to social media to declare they have deleted their profile as the public backlash against Facebook's handling of user data grows.

Even the co-founder of WhatsApp - now owned by Facebook - took to Twitter to tell his followers to delete their profile.



Since the fallout, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has gone quiet. But it is one facet of the company's response - a decision to ban the whistleblower who broke the story from its platform - that has been most widely criticised.

"Suspended by Facebook. For blowing the whistle. On something they have known privately for 2 years," the Cambirge Analytica whistleblower Chris Wylie wrote on Twitter after he helped break the story.

A picture posted to social media this morning showed how the messages he previously sent to friends on the service have now been deleted on the grounds of being "abusive" or "spam," with Wylie confirming "I've been deleted."

He has also been banned from the Facebook-owned Instagram platform.


Wylie said he regrets working on the company's software which exploited peoples' "inner demons" to target them with specific politically charged messages.

On Tuesday he told a packed audience at the Frontline Club, a media organisation in London, that he is sorry he had worked for Cambridge Analytica.

When asked if he would compare himself to other whistleblowers, such as Daniel Ellsberg or Edward Snowden, he reportedly demurred, saying his decision to come forward was more about contrition.



The story of Cambridge Analytica's antics has engulfed the social media giant but this is the world we live in now. What the data analysis firm, and what other companies like it do shouldn't necessarily come as a shock to anybody.

Using data to build sophisticated profiles on segments of the population to target them with advertising (or in this case politically themed messages or fake news) has become the aim of the game for many companies in the digital age.

Big data is big business and Facebook just happens to have some of the richest data sets.

But the dubious way in which Cambridge Analytica acquired it, technically in violation of Facebook's rules, and the particularly nefarious ends to which they used it has been the most troubling part of the story.

Cambridge Analytica's board of directors have now suspended CEO Alexander Nix pending an investigation after he boasted of various unsavoury services to an undercover reporter for Britain's Channel 4 News.

In its third TV segment covering the story, this morning Channel 4 News broadcast clips that showed Nix saying his data-mining firm played a major role in securing Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 presidential election.

Nix said the firm handled "all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting" and said the firm used emails with a "self-destruct timer" to make its role more difficult to trace.

"There's no evidence, there's no paper trail, there's nothing," he said.

Chief Executive of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix, leaves the offices in central London, Tuesday March 20, 2018. Picture: Dominic Lipinski
Chief Executive of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix, leaves the offices in central London, Tuesday March 20, 2018. Picture: Dominic Lipinski

In a statement, Cambridge Analytica's board said Nix's comments "do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation."

The company has denied wrongdoing and Trump's campaign has said it didn't use Cambridge's data.

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