September 24, 2019
Last Friday, Facebook suspended 69,000 apps, stating that they had harvested users’ personal data. The investigation began in March 2018, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, leading to the suspensions of those apps, associated with 400 developers. The Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey investigated and found that 10,000 of the 69,000 apps were found to have “potentially misappropriated” personal data, often as a way to add new users. The Justice Department and the FBI are still investigating Cambridge Analytica.
The New York Times reports that company chief executive Mark Zuckerberg had promised to audit all of Facebook’s third-party apps “to make sure they were not abusing people’s information.”
“Every company, and especially the app developers involved, needs to understand that there are consequences for abusing consumer data,” said Future of Privacy Forum chief executive Jules Polonetsky, who called on the Federal Trade Commission to act against the offending app developers. “If these apps escape legal penalty, developers are left thinking there is no legal risk, privacy is solely a platform responsibility and a terms of service agreement with Facebook.”
Although Facebook reached a settlement with the FTC over privacy violations, agreeing to pay a $5 billion fine, some privacy advocates — including elected officials — aren’t satisfied. “Facebook put up a neon sign that said ‘Free Private Data,’ and let app developers have their fill of Americans’ personal info,” said Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon). “The FTC needs to hold Mark Zuckerberg personally responsible.”
The FTC stated that the settlement included a proviso that Facebook “do more to enforce its platform policies and to ensure that app developers are complying with them.”
Facebook executive Ime Archibong, however, wrote in a blog post that the apps’ suspensions didn’t indicate that all of them “were posing a threat to people,” since some had not yet debuted and others didn’t respond to its request for information. “We are far from finished,” he said, adding that the company has “improved the ways we investigate and enforce against potential policy violations that we find.”
At the same time, Facebook is tussling with the Massachusetts attorney general’s office to prevent the wide release of documents related to this mass suspension of apps. A seal on the records was lifted last Friday. “For nearly a year, Facebook has fought to shield information about improper data-sharing with app developers,” noted Healey. “If only Facebook cared this much about privacy when it was giving away the personal data of everyone you know online.”