Roughly 87 million people had their Facebook data stolen by the political research firm Cambridge Analytica. And starting today, Facebook will finally notify the people who had their information scooped up. About 70 million are in the US, while the rest are primarily in the UK, Indonesia and the Philippines, but there are over 300,000 Australians affected.
How can you find out if your Facebook information was compromised? A notification will appear at the top of your Facebook newsfeed, along with a new button for changing your privacy settings. Even if your information wasn’t swallowed up by Cambridge Analytica, it’s probably a good time to change your settings anyway.
If your data wasn’t stolen by Cambridge Analytica, it will appear like the newsfeed on the left. But if your data was obtained by Cambridge Analytica, it will look like the screen on the right.
With over 2.2 billion Facebook users worldwide, most people will get the notification on the left.
Facebook has come under intense scrutiny over the past month after it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica obtained the private information of 50 million Facebook users. That number was revised to roughly 87 million last week, but Cambridge Analytica wasn’t the only company that was misusing Facebook data.
To make things even messier, Facebook has suspended at least two more research companies over the weekend. Facebook booted a data analytics company called CubeYou for misusing data from personality quizzes. And it also kicked out the Canadian analytics firm AggregateIQ. The Canadian government has subsequently launched an investigation into AggregateIQ.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify in front of at least two congressional committees this week. Zuck will appear in front of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees on Tuesday, April 10 in the US and then head over to the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, April 11. Zuckerberg has so far refused to testify in London at the request of the British government, choosing instead to send one of his lackeys.
It isn’t yet clear if there will be livestreams of his testimony, but we do know that Zuckerberg is doing his homework. Facebook has hired a team of experts to prepare Zuckerberg for his testimony, including Reginald J. Brown, a former adviser to President George W. Bush and former legal counsel for Florida Governor Jeb Bush. The New York Times has characterised the preparation as “a crash course in humility and charm”.
But it will be interesting to see how Facebook weathers the next few weeks, especially since its stock has plunged 15 per cent in the past three weeks. Many at the social media company have been caught off guard by the backlash, largely because the kind of data acquisition at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal is more or less standard practice for every other technology company, including places such as Google and even Apple. Facebook simply had the misfortune of getting caught after playing fast and loose with who has control over their data.
If you or a friend ever took a “personality quiz” on Facebook, there’s a really good chance that you were a target of political operatives somewhere in the world. It may have been fun to find out which Disney princess you are, but all of those personality traits have been catalogued and monetised.
“Users provide every detail of their life to Facebook and […] Facebook makes a lot of advertising money off this,” Woz told USA Today in an email. “The profits are all based on the user’s info, but the users get none of the profits back.”
With two more firms getting booted from Facebook over the weekend, it’s pretty clear that this is just the beginning of Facebook’s troubles. And as the world wakes up to how its digital data is being used, the rest of the tech sector could be in for quite a jolt.