Facebook is still under scrutiny following the Cambridge Analytica scandal that compromised the private data of over 87 million people. Now, according to latest reports, it has been revealed that the firm allowed extended access of user data to 61 companies, including Russian technology conglomerate, Mail.Ru.
The social media giant announced a policy change in 2014 that was to come into effect from May 2015. It would restrict third-party developers' access to data on app users' friends whenever these users interacted with said app. This data, in some cases, included their friends' name, gender, date of birth, location, photos, and even what they had "liked" on Facebook. Obviously, this was disconcerting to many users as it allowed their private data to be shared with developers based on their friends' usage of any random app, rather than an app they themselves had seen fit to interact with.
However, a couple of weeks ago, the tech giant revealed to Congress that 61 companies were given access to aforementioned user data beyond May 2015 as well. This included Mail.Ru, Russian internet company with reported ties to Kremlin. According to Facebook, although this company has developed hundreds of apps for it, only two were granted a special extension of two weeks beyond the cutoff period.
Senator Mark Warner, top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, stressed the need to further investigate this incidence, noting:
"In the last 6 months we've learned that Facebook had few controls in place to control the collection and use of user data by third parties. Now we learn that the largest technology company in Russia, whose executives boast close ties to Vladimir Putin, had potentially hundreds of apps integrated with Facebook, collecting user data. If this is accurate, we need to determine what user information was shared with mail.ru and what may have been done with the captured data."
On the other hand, Facebook's VP of Partnerships, Ime Archibong, told CNN on Tuesday that no evidence had been found of the Russian firm misusing users' data. However, he refused to mention if the tech giant could even determine how data was used once derived from the social media application. He further acknowledged that significant resources were being dedicated to the ongoing investigation, though declined to comment on whether Russian-built apps were being more closely scrutinized.
In a written statement provided to CNN on the same day, Archibong commented on the investigation, noting:
"Facebook is a global company with users all over the world so we work with developers globally to bring our services to people everywhere — as long as those developers adhere to our platform policies. Mail.ru, one of the top five largest internet companies in the world, has built apps for the Facebook platform and for other major platforms, including iOS and Android for years. We've found no indication of misuse with Mail.ru. If we find misuse, we ban the developers."
Although the social media giant said that it had contacted Mail.Ru about the investigation, the Russian company itself said that no contact had been made as of yet. It further went on to say that it had not collected any user data other than to promote its "social games with social mechanics within Facebook ", which is in accordance with the tech giant's terms and conditions.
Facebook banned 470 "fake" Russian accounts and pages in September, later followed by the release of a tool that showed if your account had been influenced by Russian propaganda. Perhaps these recent events have led to the U.S. Senate being wary of a company with "close ties to Vladimir Putin" having been provided extended access to user data.