Facebook revenues soared to billions of pounds after it started giving away users’ details.
The social media giant practically doubled its takings every year after opening up profiles to ‘tens of thousands’ of app developers.
Facebook users were yesterday waking up to how much private information has been handed out.
During the data gold-rush – which lasted from 2009 to 2015 – it appears almost anyone who described themselves as a ‘developer’ could freely mine Facebook’s database.
Facebook revenues soared to billions of pounds after it started giving away users’ details
In this period, the technology firm’s revenues rose sharply, from £500million in 2009 to nearly £13billion by 2015.
The company is now facing probes from law enforcement agencies around the world, including in Britain.
Some £39billion has been wiped from the social network’s value this week – although it rallied slightly yesterday – and shareholders have begun legal action, accusing the firm of making ‘misleading statements’ about its policies.
Last night Facebook’s billionaire founder Mark Zuckerberg finally broke his silence, admitting his site ‘made mistakes’. In a post on the social network he added: ‘At the end of the day I’m responsible for what happens on our platform.’
Last night it was reported that advertisers threatened to end their relationship with Facebook.
A group of leading British consumer goods companies, has demanded answers from the social media giant, according to the Times. It was claimed that around 3,000 firms including Unilever and Procter & Gamble did not want to associate with Facebook if it was shown that users’ data had been acquired without permission.
Banking giant Nordea said it had put some Facebook investments in ‘quarantine’ as it monitored the scandal. The scale of the breach has grown dramatically since it emerged at the weekend that 50million Facebook profiles were harvested by Aleksandr Kogan, a psychology researcher at Cambridge University, who designed a ‘personality quiz’ app as a research project.
Last night it was reported that advertisers threatened to end their relationship with Facebook
He passed the data to Cambridge Analytica, whose boss Alexander Nix was suspended on Tuesday after Channel 4 broadcast footage of him bragging about the firm’s role in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The company says Mr Nix’s comments ‘do not represent the values or operations of the firm’.
Dr Kogan claimed ‘tens of thousands’ of other apps may be mining social media for personal data to be sold on in the same way. Other experts said it was possible virtually the entire Facebook database from 2015 could be in unknown hands.
Until it tightened privacy settings in April that year, Facebook was effectively giving away masses of personal data to third-party developers for free, to encourage them to create more apps and grow the platform, say experts.
In 2012, there were some nine million Facebook apps – all of whose developers were apparently able to access users’ personal details. It is unclear what checks were made on someone applying to Facebook to become a ‘developer’ – for example whether they might be a company, a spy agency or even a mafia gang – before personal details were made available.
Last night Facebook’s billionaire founder Mark Zuckerberg finally broke his silence, admitting his site ‘made mistakes’
Dutch academic Bernhard Rieder, who created a similar Facebook app in 2009 before deleting it, said: ‘Before 2015, you could get troves of data. I should have stored all the data [and then sold it to] get that Lamborghini.’
Social media users have also raised fears about how others – including Amazon, music service Spotify and dating app Tinder – could be using their data. UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she was examining whether Facebook could have broken laws under the Data Protection Act.
Whistleblower Sandy Parakilas, a data protection manager for Facebook in 2011 and 2012, told the Commons’ digital committee yesterday the firm had adopted a ‘Wild West’ approach to guarding data. As the backlash grew, Brian Acton, the co-founder of messaging service WhatsApp, suggested it was ‘time’ for users to ‘delete Facebook’. Meanwhile a poll by Sky News of more than 1,000 people found 65 per cent said they trusted Facebook less than they did a week ago.
Expert Frederike Kaltheuner, from campaign group Privacy International, said ‘this is really just the tip of the iceberg’, adding that ten years’ worth of someone’s personal details could have been spirited away before the privacy rules were tightened. Last night Cambridge Analytica faced fresh questions after The Guardian reported the firm had been offered material from Israeli hackers, who had accessed emails of politicians who are now heads of state in Nigeria and St Kitts.
SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, denied taking possession of stolen information for any purpose in either campaign. Facebook executives have insisted they never sell or give away users’ data. Simon Milner, the site’s UK policy director, has told MPs that Cambridge Analytica ‘may have lots of data, but it will not be Facebook user data’.