North

More than 1,700 northerners in Facebook data 'breach': privacy commissioner

Though only one northerner — located in Nunavut — actually downloaded the 'This is Your Digital Life' app, 1,715 northerners were impacted

1 person in Nunavut downloaded the ‘This is Your Digital Life’ app

British Columbia Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy looks on as Canada's Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien (right) speaks during a news conference, Thursday, April 25, 2019 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

More than 1,700 northerners are affected by what Canada's privacy commissioner is calling a "major breach of trust" involving Facebook and the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and its B.C. counterpart released a report Thursday morning that says Facebook allowed a third-party app to collect information about approximately 622,000 Canadians.

Though only one northerner — located in Nunavut — actually downloaded the 'This is Your Digital Life' app, 1,715 northerners were impacted, including:

  • 647 in Yukon
  • 768 in the N.W.T.
  • 300 in Nunavut

The app not only collected information about those who downloaded it. It also scoured its users' friends lists to collect their publicly available information, such as birthdate, hometown and "liked" Facebook pages.

'This is Your Digital Life' was launched on Facebook as an academic research project designed by a Cambridge University researcher named Aleksandr Kogan. In fact, the data Kogan collected was shared with Cambridge Analytica, a company co-owned by former U.S. President Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon.

The information was used by Trump's campaign to disseminate information that targeted voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

The app encouraged users to complete a personality quiz, according to the report, and collected data including their profile and cover photo, hometown, birthdate, Facebook page "likes" and — if permission was granted — posts and private messages.

Kogan testified in the UK that "between 1,000 and 2,000 individuals participated in 'studies' that revealed private messages," according to the report.

"Dr. Kogan further testified that such messages were not shared with [Cambridge Analytica]."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a House Energy and Commerce hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2018. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

The app was launched in November 2013, and Facebook disabled it in December 2015.

"Facebook chose not to alert users to the … resulting unauthorized access to as many as 87,000,000 users' information, until 2018 in response to media coverage and ensuing investigations," states the report.

It goes on to say Facebook broke a number of Canadian and B.C. privacy laws in the process.

Facebook users can check to see whether their data has been compromised by clicking here.

Facebook disputes report

According to the report, the privacy commissioner made a number of recommendations to the social media company, including that Facebook submit to audits for a period of five years to assess the company's compliance with Canadian law.

"Facebook did not agree with our findings or to implement the above measures," states the report.

"Rather, Facebook essentially proposed the status quo with respect to its consent practices."

The company provided a statement to CBC saying it's "disappointed" that the commissioner considers the issues unresolved.

"We've made dramatic improvements to our platform to protect people's personal information," stated Erin Taylor, communications manager for Facebook, in an email.

The privacy commissioner has announced it intends to take Facebook to federal court in an effort to force the company to change its privacy practices.


Have you been affected by the Facebook privacy scandal? Send an email to randi.beers@cbc.ca

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