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'Facebook Trying to Push Boundaries in What They Do With Data' - Security Expert

© REUTERS / Rick WilkingComputer screens display the Facebook sign-in screen in this photo illustration taken in Golden, Colorado, United States July 28, 2015
Computer screens display the Facebook sign-in screen in this photo illustration taken in Golden, Colorado, United States July 28, 2015 - Sputnik International
Facebook has suspended consultants Crimson Hexagon over contracts with the US government. The company will no longer be able to access and analyze users’ public data because it violates the social network’s policies.

Radio Sputnik has discussed the issue with Troy Hunt, web security expert and manager of the website

Sputnik: So far it seems like the network hasn’t found any evidence that the data has been improperly obtained by Crimson Hexagon. Why do you think the firm has been suspended?

Troy Hunt: Well, it looks like they were aggregating quite a large amount of information which was probably beyond the scope of what they should have access to and of Facebook’s terms and conditions, obviously are being liked to Cambridge Analytica. We know from that instance that they did have somewhat significant overreach beyond what they should have been using for their purposes.

Sputnik: Do you think Facebook is getting a wee bit nervous with regard to the pressure that’s mounting on them? Then they obviously had the Select Committee meeting with CEO a few months ago there’s been a lot of criticism of Facebook. In your view is there a threat of various consultancy firms using Facebook users’ data inappropriately increasing and what can be done about it?

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Troy Hunt: Obviously Facebook got dragged over the coals, for want of a better term, after the Cambridge Analytica situation. Interestingly, since that time this year they’ve rebounded, the Zuckerburg net worth has gone up significantly, so some would actually argue that they got through it relatively unscathed. But I think certainly that the public sentiment is against the usage of data in a fashion such as Cambridge Analytica were doing. I think the interesting thing here in this case as well is that inevitably there will be many other organizations beyond Crimson Hexagon also using data for purposes like sentiment analysis because it gives such a valuable resource for providing their sorts of services.

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Sputnik: Do you think that Facebook has done enough to prevent such instances from reoccurring, from your knowledge and your insight?

Troy Hunt: Well, there’s certainly a lot that has changed, even after the Cambridge Analytica situation, going back several years where that organization had access to API services into Facebook which were shut down some time ago. So the situation even several years ago was different to what it was when Cambridge Analytica was first scraping that data out. I suspect since that point we’ve seen things tighten up a little bit further as well because clearly that did leave somewhat of a lasting impression. It’s a better situation right now, but the question remains if there’s still too much access to data.

Sputnik: In your view how ethical are Facebook policies about providing third party access to users’ data? Again there’s been a lot of conversation about this during the last eight to ten months. Is it more transparent, is it changed, is it moving forward to an area where potential governments and regulators are saying that’s more acceptable to the wider global audience?

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Troy Hunt: Facebook is sort of walking this tightrope where on the one hand they need to keep regulators and governments happy because they want to keep operating in those jurisdictions. But on the other hand their business model is that they need this data so that they can do everything from advertising products to their subscribers to sell it to the organizations that do operate in spaces of data aggregation. And so it is a delicate proposition for them and also I think the thing about are they doing enough, is very much down to the tolerance of individuals as well. So many of us were concerned about the amount of data they’re sharing but evidently not concerned enough to actually have much impact on the viability of their business model.

Sputnik: Facebook is obviously getting its revenue and its value added incomes from selling the information on that it’s able to receive from the general audience; do you think that they have got the capacity and the intent? They’re obviously an interactive, highly innovative company but they just seem to be rather slow in terms of getting their act together with regard to data control. It’s quite surprising for the average man in the street that this is sort of rolling on. Is it a surprise to you?

Troy Hunt: I think that they’re to some extent always reacting to the public sentiment as well and then certainly public sentiment is something that changes over time as well. So I imagine that they’re trying to push the boundaries as far as they can in terms of what they do with the data, but not to the point where they end up having penalties which limit their ability to operate. And evidently so far neither of those two things is really happening and we haven’t seen anything that’s put a dent in their viability.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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