Carol Davidsen.
Carol Davidsen.

Expert reveals the creepy data Facebook sells to companies

A FORMER Facebook staffer responsible for policing data breaches inside the social media giant has broken his silence about the "horrifying" practices as outrage over user data grows.

Sandy Parakilas worked as a Facebook platform operations manager between 2011 and 2012. He told The Guardian hundreds of millions of users are likely to have had their data unwittingly harvested by third party developers through a Friends Permission feature that left Facebook with "zero" control or oversight of user information.

"Once the data left Facebook servers there was not any control, and there was no insight into what was going on," he said. Mr Parakilas said when he raised the issue with executives he was asked "Do you really want to see what you'll find?"

He told the newspaper he took that to mean that "Facebook was in a stronger legal position if it didn't know about the abuse that was happening".

"They felt that it was better not to know. I found that utterly shocking and horrifying."

President Barack Obama’s campaign also targeted social media users. Picture: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast.
President Barack Obama’s campaign also targeted social media users. Picture: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast.

 

Mr Parakilas is due to give evidence to the UK government on Wednesday over what happened inside the social media giant that has since changed its policies and denies any wrongdoing.

His comments come as a former digital adviser to President Obama revealed how the 2012 campaign was able to access extraordinary amounts of personal information through Facebook.

Carol Davidsen, the Obama for America (OFA) former director of integration and media analytics, tweeted Facebook was "very candid" that it allowed the Democratic organisation to do certain things because it supported them politically.

"Facebook was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn't stop us once they realised that was what we were doing," she wrote in a series of tweets.

MORE: What you need to know about the Facebook case

"They came to [the] office in the days following election recruiting [and] were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn't have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side."

The woman named in 2013 as one of the "top 10 people in digital politics" by Business Insider said: "I am also 100 per cent positive that Facebook activity recruits and staffs people that are on the other side."

"I worked on all of the data integration projects at OFA. This was the only one that felt creepy, even though we played by the rules, and didn't do anything I felt was ugly, with the data."

 

An example of how we used that data to append to our email lists.

 

Carol Davidsen said the 2012 Obama campaign was able to “scrape” Facebook user’s information.
Carol Davidsen said the 2012 Obama campaign was able to “scrape” Facebook user’s information.

 

A Washington Post report on Tuesday claimed "thousands" of other developers including those behind game FarmVille and Tinder were also able to siphon information about Facebook users and their friends in order to understand their preferences.

Facebook and UK research firm Cambridge Analytica are embroiled in a growing furore after whistleblower reports up to 50 million people may have had their data harvested for political purposes after some 270,000 people signed up to take an online quiz.

MORE: The two words Zuckerberg regrets

Both companies have denied any wrongdoing, however UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham is investigating allegations Cambridge Analytica gathered personal information in an unauthorised way and has asked Facebook executives to step aside.

"Our advice to Facebook is to back away and let us go in and do our work," she said.

The news has been disastrous for Facebook leadership with politicians in the UK and US calling on founder Mark Zuckerberg to face up to questions in person, as shares in the company plunged nearly seven per cent. The US-based Federal Trade Commission is investigating how the two companies operated and has the power to issue fines of up to $US40,000 per user, if wrongdoing is found.

Reports are also swirling about internal discord with the New York Times claiming Data Security boss Alex Stamos will step down by August. On Tuesday, he denied the reports saying: "I'm still fully engaged with my work at Facebook."

"It's true that my role did change. I'm currently spending more time exploring emerging security risks and working on election security," he said.

 

Cambridge Analytica's chief executive officer Alexander Nix suggested sending Ukrainian women to a candidates house in an online video, but said he was framed in entrapment and denied wrongdoing. Picture: AFP PHOTO / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA
Cambridge Analytica's chief executive officer Alexander Nix suggested sending Ukrainian women to a candidates house in an online video, but said he was framed in entrapment and denied wrongdoing. Picture: AFP PHOTO / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA

 

Meanwhile Cambridge Analaytica executives hit back after they were recorded on hidden cameras apparently discussing the services they could offer. Footage secretly recorded by Britain's Channel 4 News showed managing director Mark Turnbull speaking about "putting information into the bloodstream of the internet".

"It has to happen without anyone thinking 'that's propaganda,' he said. "Because the moment you think that's propaganda the next question is 'who's put that out?' So we have to be very subtle."

MORE: The surprising info Facebook has on you

CEO Alexander Nix suggested sending Ukrainian women around to the houses of political candidates in a honeytrap-style example of what "can be done and what has been done".

The company claims the footage amounted to "entrapment" and said it is not alone in using social media to extract information on users.

"In playing along with this line of conversation, and partly to spare our 'client' from embarrassment, we entertained a series of ludicrous hypothetical scenarios," Mr Nix said.

"I'm aware how this looks, but it is simply not the case. I must emphatically state that Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called 'honeytraps', and nor does it use untrue material for any purpose."

Facebook has denied wrongdoing but CEO Mark Zuckerberg is facing questions about his data policy and enforcement. Picture: AFP PHOTO / LOIC VENANCE
Facebook has denied wrongdoing but CEO Mark Zuckerberg is facing questions about his data policy and enforcement. Picture: AFP PHOTO / LOIC VENANCE


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