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Facebook plans election research committee, continues data misuse investigation

CLOSEFacebook plans election research committee, continues data misuse investigation

Sheryl Sandberg Says Facebook Takes Responsibility For Cambridge Analytica Incident Time

Facebook will seek researchers’ help in preventing future election manipulation on the social media platform and, in its campaign to improve privacy, has suspended two more data firms as part of an ongoing investigation into the potential misuse of user data by political targeting firm Cambridge Analytica.

The formation of an independent election research commission is part of Facebook’s strategy to help prevent a repeat of the 2016 presidential election campaign in which more than 3,000 ads were bought by 470 fake accounts and pages run by the Internet Research Agency, a shadowy organization in St. Petersburg, Russia. Many of the ads sought to spread divisive messages to stir up voters and public outrage. 

“The goal is both to get the ideas of leading academics on how to address these issues as well as to hold us accountable for making sure we protect the integrity of these elections on Facebook,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a note posted on his Facebook page Monday. “Looking back, it’s clear we were too slow identifying election interference in 2016, and we need to do better in future elections.”

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This new election research initiative — and the additional suspension of the firms — comes as Zuckerberg prepares to testify to Congressional committees Tuesday and Wednesday. He is also expected to meet with some Congressional leaders today. 

Facebook is improving its privacy settings to make them easier for users to understand and is toughening advertising verification methods to prevent societal tampering in political issues, the company said last week.

The social networking giant continued to take steps to recover from the scandal that it now thinks could involve the data misuse of as many as 87 million people, mostly in the United States, when their data was improperly shared by Cambridge Analytica. The social network said it will begin notifying users Monday if their data was shared as part of the incident.

Concerns about possible ties to the British political consulting firm led Facebook to suspend two more firms —  San Francisco-based research firm CubeYou and Canadian digital marketer AggregateIQ —  as part of its investigation.

Facebook suspended CubeYou Sunday after CNBC notified Facebook the researcher had quizzes on the platform that collected user data and shared it with marketers. CubeYou had been working with the Psychometrics Lab at Cambridge University, also the workplace of psychology professor Aleksandr Kogan who Facebook said passed along data to Cambridge Analytica.

The data was generated by a personality app Kogan created, which was downloaded 270,000 times but connected to more Facebook users who were friends of those who used the app. Facebook last month said it had suspended Cambridge Analytica because it improperly obtained that data from Kogan.

As part of its investigation, CubeYou faces an audit by Facebook. “In addition, we will work with the UK (Information Commissioner’s office) to ask the University of Cambridge about the development of apps in general by its Psychometrics Centre given this case and the misuse by Kogan,,” said Ime Archibong, Facebook’s vice president of product, in a statement.

CubeYou’s “You Are What You Like” quizzes had disclaimers similar to the Kogan-created “This Is Your Digital Life” app, about the data being used for academic purposes. Under Facebook’s settings at the time, the app could gain access to friends of those who answered the quiz. CubeYou CEO Federico Treu told CNBC the app did not gain access to friends’ information, but only to friends who also opted into the app on their own.

Facebook suspended the other company, AggregateIQ, based in Victoria, British Columbia, after whistleblower Christopher Wylie said Aggregate IQ had worked with Cambridge Analytica parent company Strategic Communication Laboratories.  

“In light of recent reports that AggregateIQ may be affiliated with SCL and may, as a result, have improperly received FB user data, we have added them to the list of entities we have suspended from our platform while we investigate,” said Facebook in a statement. “Our internal review continues, and we will cooperate fully with any investigations by regulatory authorities.”

Aggregate IQ, on its website,  “has never managed, nor did we ever have access to, any Facebook data or database allegedly obtained improperly by Cambridge Analytica.”

Also in advance of Zuckerberg’s testimony, U.S. and European consumer groups asked Facebook to establish privacy standards as stringent as those due to be implemented by the European Union next month.

“The targeting of internet users, based on detailed and secret profiling with opaque algorithms, threatens not only consumer privacy but also democratic institutions,” says a letter addressed Monday to Zuckerberg from the members of the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue.

The E.U. will adopt new data rules called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on May 25. Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said in January Facebook’s planned improvements to user privacy settings would give the company “a very good foundation to meet all the requirements” of the GDPR.

The U.S. and E.U. consumer groups urged Zuckerberg to commit to “global compliance with the GDPR” when testifying before Congress this week. “These are protections that all users should be entitled to no matter where they are located,” read the letter, signed by Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, and Finn Lützow-Holm Myrstad of the Norwegian Consumer Council.

More: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak says he’s left Facebook over data collection

More: Facebook’s facial recognition violates user privacy, watchdog groups plan to tell FTC

More: Facebook tightens issue ads, political ads to prevent election interference

Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

 

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