Facebook announced today that it has suspended around 200 apps for potentially misusing personal data collected from users as part of its promised sweep in response to the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal.
The update on Facebook's investigation notably followed a New Scientist report revealing that a personality quiz app had exposed 3 million Facebook users’ personal data to potentially anyone. Once again the app hailed from Cambridge University in the UK, home of the personality quiz app behind Facebook's Cambridge Analytica woes.
The roughly 200 apps that have been suspended so far were caught in Facebook’s investigation into apps that had access to “large amounts of data”, just as Cambridge Analytica had acquired from Alexandr Kogan, the Cambridge University researcher and developer of the "This Is Your Digital Life” personality quiz app at the centre of Facebook's privacy scandal. Cambridge Analytica has been credited with helping US President Donald Trump win the 2016 US election.
According to New Scientist, Kogan was also involved in the myPersonality app until the summer of 2014. The myPersonality app is one of the 200 apps that Facebook suspended as part of its investigation.
Facebook in April revealed that 311,000 Australians were affected by the Cambridge Analytica exposure, despite reportedly only 53 Australians having used the This Is Your Digital Life app. Australians affected were a small portion of the 87 million users Facebook notified in April about the incident.
Over 6 million people completed the myPersonality app and around half agreed to share anonymized data from their Facebook profiles with the project. Users’ information was put on a password-protected website that should have limited access to bonafide researchers, however a working username and password to the site could be found through a single public online search, according to New Scientist.
Facebook confirmed to the publication that the myPersonality app was suspended on April 7 as part of its Cambridge Analytica sweep. The data collected via the app was accessed by 280 people from 150 organizations, including universities and staff from Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.
Facebook’s investigation has two phases, according to Ime Archibong, Facebook vice president of product partnerships. The first phase scans for every app that had access to large amounts of data before Facebook rolled out stricter policies in 2014 that required apps that are used by one user need a friend’s approval before gaining access to the friend’s data.
The second phase covers apps that Facebook has “concerns” over during the initial scan. This group will be subjected to interviews, questions about the app and data it had access to, and audits.
Archibong said thousands of apps have been investigated and the 200 apps that have been suspended could be banned if it finds evidence they had misused data.
Facebook plans to show and notify people of banned apps via this website, which states whether or not a logged in Facebook user or their friends had logged in to any of the apps it confirms did misuse data. Currently the only app the site provides this information for is the This Is Your Digital Life app.
"We have large teams of internal and external experts working hard to investigate these apps as quickly as possible,” wrote Archibong on a blog.
“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. 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."
The review was instigated by Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg on March 21 following the Cambridge Analytica fallout revealed by The Guardian.