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Facebook critics want regulation, investigation after data misuse

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Facebook faced new calls for regulation from within US Congress and was hit with questions about personal data safeguards on Saturday after reports of a political consultant gaining inappropriate access to 50 million users' data starting in 2014.

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FACEBOOK faced new calls for regulation from within US Congress and was hit with questions about personal data safeguards on Saturday after reports of a political consultant gaining inappropriate access to 50 million users' data starting in 2014.

Facebook disclosed the issue in a blog post on Friday, hours before media reports that conservative-leaning Cambridge Analytica, a data company known for its work on Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, was given access to the data and may not have deleted it.

The scrutiny presented a new threat to Facebook's reputation, which was already under attack over Russians' alleged use of Facebook tools to sway American voters before and after the 2016 US elections.

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"It's clear these platforms can't police themselves," Democratic US Senator Amy Klobuchar tweeted.

Facebook said the root of the problem was that researchers and Cambridge Analytica lied to it and abused its policies, but critics on Saturday threw blame at Facebook as well, demanding answers on behalf of users and calling for new regulation.

Facebook insisted the data was misused but not stolen, because users gave permission, sparking a debate about what constitutes a hack that must be disclosed to customers.

"The lid is being opened on the black box of Facebook's data practices, and the picture is not pretty," said Frank Pasquale, a University of Maryland law professor who has written about Silicon Valley's use of data.

Prof Pasquale said Facebook's response that data had not technically been stolen seemed to obfuscate the central issue that data was apparently used in a way contrary to the expectations of users. "It amazes me that it is trying to make this about nomenclature. I guess that's all it has left."

Democratic US Senator Mark Warner said the episode bolstered the need for new regulations about Internet advertising, describing the industry as the "Wild West". "Whether it's allowing Russians to purchase political ads, or extensive micro-targeting based on ill-gotten user data, it's clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency," he said.

The New York Times and London's Observer reported on Saturday that private information from more than 50 million Facebook users improperly ended up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica, and the information has not been deleted despite Facebook's demands beginning in 2015.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey's office said she wants to understand how the data was used, what policies if any were violated and what the legal implications are. REUTERS