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Facebook suspends, investigates CubeYou, another data-harvester

That snapping sound you heard? Italy's got the gloves on for a probe

Facebook's slow-motion privacy awakening continued over the weekend, with a data analytics outfit called CubeYou suspended from the platform pending investigation over T&C violations.

For some time, privacy advocates have warned that cute-and-popular quizzes linked from Facebook – “Which Star Wars weapon are you?” and the like – populated the data troves of their hosts.

As far back as 2014, The Register warned against data-slurping quizzes, but recent events suggest users are hard to educate.

At the weekend, in response to research by CNBC, Facebook suspended data-harvester CubeYou for posting quizzes which claimed the data was for non-commercial, academic purposes.

According to CNBC the quizzes were designed to help marketers in CubeYou's customer list identify potential sales prospects, and Facebook launched its investigation.

Facebook's Ime Archibong told CNBC that CubeYou will be banned if it refuses or fails an audit. He said Facebook will work with the UK's Information Commissioner's Office to seek clarification from the University of Cambridge about its role - via its Psychometrics Centre - in developing apps used by Cambridge Analytica to harvest user information.

CubeYou was also a fan of the University's efforts: it trawled users with its “You Are What you Like” Myer-Briggs personality typing app (described in this 2015 paper at PNAS), commercialised and offered free to academics as Apply Magic Sauce.

As CNBC noted, CubeYou boasted extensive user profiles (including age, gender, location, workplace and more) but recently edited its Website to make its claims more modest (name, email, phone number, IP address, mobile device ID and a browser fingerprint).

From a cached version of the CubeYou privacy policy:

If you chose to sign up to our Services by using a third party Social Media profile (such as your Facebook, Google, Twitter or Instagram account you will give permission for your CubeYou account to be linked to your Social Media profile and give it access to some of your Social media profile personally identifiable information. Personally identifiable information that we might collect from your Social Media profile may include, but is not limited to: name, mailing address, email address, telephone number, birth date, gender, areas of interest, occupation, title and other demographic information, address book list, your social media handle, your profile picture, your device settings and data, your localization, social connections, likes, pictures and videos.

That's not all, folks

Last Friday, Italy's antitrust enforcer announced its own investigation.

The Italian Antitrust Authority is focusing on “unfair commercial practices”, on the basis of user information collection, data sharing with third parties, and APIs that pass around information without warning users.

Facebook probably hoped its Friday announcement, that it would be more strict on political ads, would settle things down over the weekend.

If Facebook's people and AI doesn't catch a misbehaving political ad, there'll be a “report” button available for users.

It is welcome that political advertisements will need to identify whose ads they are (authorisation) and that they will be labelled as political – but the 2016 US presidential election is a long way behind us.®

Update:Cambridge University has contacted Vulture South with the following correction to this article:

The Psychometrics Centre has never worked with Cambridge Analytica. We have never provided them with data, algorithms, or expertise. Dr Kogan, who provided data to CA/SCL, has stated that he created his own app 'thisisyourdigitallife' to collect the data, and that he created his own algorithms. Dr Kogan has his own research lab, the Cambridge Prosociality and Wellbeing Laboratory and was not a member of the Psychometrics Centre. Both Dr Kogan and SCL have stated that they did not use any IP from the Psychometrics Centre.

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