Facebook Under Fire: Ex-Facebook Insider Says Data Breaches like Cambridge Analytica were “Routine”- Sandy Parakilas


While Mark Zuckerberg hides, the Facebook data breach saga continues. An ex-Facebook insider says that the data farming of Facebook through apps was worse than what we thought.

Today the Guardian released shocking details on Facebook that goes right along with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The platform operations manager at Facebook from 2011 to 2012, Sandy Parakilas, was responsible for securing the platform and preventing data breaches. According to him, the breach of Facebook data was “routine,” but when he warned Facebook executives about his concerns, they weren’t taken seriously.

After seeing data breaches and privacy violations, Parakilas says, “It has been painful watching,” he said, “because I know that they could have prevented it.”

Parakilas said he “always assumed there was something of a black market” for Facebook data that had been passed to external developers. However, he said that when he told other executives the company should proactively “audit developers directly and see what’s going on with the data” he was discouraged from the approach.

He said one Facebook executive advised him against looking into how the data was being used, warning him: “Do you really want to see what you’ll find?” Parakilas said he interpreted the comment to mean that “Facebook was in a stronger legal position if it didn’t know about the abuse that was happening”.

He added: “They felt that it was better not to know. I found that utterly shocking and horrifying.”

Over the Weekend, the Guardian published a bombshell report, detailing that the Trump Campaign, headed by Steve Bannon, utilized a company called Cambridge Analytica. CA, for short, allegedly stole the profile data of roughly fifty to sixty million American Facebook profiles. After which psychologists analyzed the data to craft a personal campaign for Donald Trump that was impactful to the individual voter.

The Guardian, as detailed in the leak by Christopher Wylie, reported that Cambridge Analytica used applications that gave the developer access to their Facebook profile data. It goes further, Facebook granted organizations with the credentials access not only to their respective profile but the entirety of each individual friend of the target’s Facebook profile data as well.

“Facebook could see it was happening,” says Wylie. “Their security protocols were triggered because Kogan’s apps were pulling this enormous amount of data, but apparently Kogan told them it was for academic use. So they were like, ‘Fine’.”`

The psychological manipulation that can be done based on Facebook data is astounding, whether it be to guide an individual to vote for a favored political candidate, change their cultural viewpoint to a more “pro-social” stance, or simply sell them a product. Facebook has turned from a social platform into a data-driven political soapbox.

During the time Parakilas worked with Facebook, he says they took 30% of an app publishers earnings in exchange for the creator to have access to Facebook user data. Although he was unsure how many apps requested friends permission data he thinks “tens or maybe even hundreds of thousands of developers may have done so.”

Parakilas estimates that “a majority of Facebook users” could have had their data harvested by app developers without their knowledge. “In the time I was there, I didn’t see them conduct a single audit of a developer’s systems.”

“It was well understood in the company that that presented a risk,” he said. “Facebook was giving data of people who had not authorised the app themselves, and was relying on terms of service and settings that people didn’t read or understand.”

It was this feature that was exploited by Global Science Research, and the data provided to Cambridge Analytica in 2014.

“Academic research from 2010, based on an analysis of 1,800 Facebooks apps, concluded that around 11% of third-party developers requested data belonging to friends of users. If those figures were extrapolated, tens of thousands of apps, if not more, were likely to have systematically culled “private and personally identifiable” data belonging to hundreds of millions of users, Parakilas said.

Thanks to Parakilas it has been made public that Cambridge Analytica wasn’t alone in extrapolating and exploiting user data from Facebook through app permissions. The social media giant turned a blind eye to the blatant behind the scenes privacy violations of millions of users and at this point, it’s beyond our knowledge all that the harvested data has been used for. The moral and ethical foundation of the company continues to come into questions as the incriminating evidence continues to pile up.

Works Cited

Paul Lewis. “'Utterly horrifying': ex-Facebook insider says covert data harvesting was routine .” The Guardian. . (2018): . . http://bit.ly/2psihZu