New details emerged in testimony this week regarding the scope of a British analytics firm’s efforts to acquire data about Facebook users.
Both Cambridge Analytica and Facebook have faced harsh criticism in recent weeks after reports surfaced that the firm obtained details of at least 87 million users. The information was collected through a social app designed in large part to aid political campaigns including that of 2016 U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.
According to a former employee who testified before parliament in the United Kingdom, though, that infamous app was only the beginning.
As Tech Crunch reported, Brittney Kaiser described a much broader program with a shared goal of obtaining personal information about Facebook users.
The “This is your Digital Life” application and associated quizzes, which were designed by professor Aleksandr Kogan in partnership with Cambridge Analytica, “were not the only Facebook-connected questionnaires and datasets” used by the firm, she wrote in a statement admitted into evidence.
“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,” she said.
While Kaiser said she was not privy to details regarding how the data was obtained or ultimately used, she claimed that the number of people affected by such behavior is almost certainly much higher than Facebook’s estimate.
Brittany Kaiser, Cambridge Analytical whistleblower: "I believe it is almost certain that the number of Facebook users whose data was compromised through routes similar to that used by Kogan is much greater than 87 million." Suggests other Facebook quizzes used to acquire data.
— Paul Lewis (@PaulLewis) April 17, 2018
In the testimony that followed, she recalled specific examples of data harvesting going far beyond what has been acknowledged so far.
“In my pitches, I used to give examples even to clients that if you go on Facebook and you see these viral personality quizzes,” she said. “Not all of them would have been designed by Cambridge Analytica/SCL Group or our affiliates but that these applications were designed specifically to harvest data from individuals, using Facebook as the tool.”
If Kogan’s test was able to be exploited to reveal data about the friends of those who used it, Kaiser said it stands to reason that other apps were similarly vulnerable.
She mentioned both the “sex compass” quiz and “another one on your ‘music personality'” as apps she said were similarly used to collect data.
“I know at least of those two examples,” she said. “Therefore it can be inferred or implied that there were many additional individuals as opposed to just the ones, through Aleksandr Kogan’s test, whose data may have been compromised.”
Though Cambridge Analytica and Facebook have absorbed significant backlash due to the scandal, activists fighting for data-privacy reform say the problem is much larger than either of these companies and the tech industry itself.
Evan Greer of the activist group Fight for the Future called Cambridge Analytica “just the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to identifying the larger threat.
“It’s not even just big tech companies; retail chains, hospitals and government agencies are vacuuming up massive amounts of sensitive personal information about all of us,” he said.
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