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facebook analytics firm data suspends another

Facebook suspends another data analytics firm
Facebook suspends another data analytics firm after CNBC discovers it was using tactics like Cambridge Analytica
  • Data analytics firm CubeYou used personality quizzes clearly labeled for "non-profit academic research" to help marketers find customers.
  • One of its quizzes, "You Are What You Like" which also goes by "Apply Magic Sauce," states it is only for "non-profit academic research that has no connection whatsoever to any commercial or profit-making purpose or entity."
  • When CNBC showed Facebook the quizzes and terms, which are similar to the methods used by Cambridge Analytica, Facebook said it was going to suspend CubeYou from the platform to investigate.
Michelle Castillo@mishcastillo
Published 21 Hours Ago  Updated 1 Hour Ago

Facebook is suspending a data analytics firm called CubeYou from the platform after CNBC notified the company that CubeYou was collecting information about users through quizzes.

CubeYou misleadingly labeled its quizzes "for non-profit academic research," then shared user information with marketers. The scenario is eerily similar to how Cambridge Analytica received unauthorized access to data from as many as 87 million Facebook user accounts to target political marketing.

CubeYou, whose CEO denies any deception, sold data that had been collected by researchers working with the Psychometrics Lab at Cambridge University, similar to how Cambridge Analytica used information it obtained from other professors at the school for political marketing. 

The CubeYou discovery suggests that collecting data from quizzes and using it for marketing purposes was far from an isolated incident. Moreover, the fact that CubeYou was able to mislabel the purpose of the quizzes — and that Facebook did nothing to stop it until CNBC pointed out the problem — suggests the platform has little control over this activity.

Facebook, however, disputed the implication that it can't exercise proper oversight over these types of apps, telling CNBC that it can't control information that companies mislabel. Upon being notified of CubeYou's alleged violations, Facebook said it would suspend all CubeYou's apps until a further audit could be completed.

"These are serious claims and we have suspended CubeYou from Facebook while we investigate them," Ime Archibong, Facebook vice president of product partnerships, said in a statement. 

"If they refuse or fail our audit, their apps will be banned from Facebook. In addition, we will work with the UK ICO [Information Commissioner's Office] to ask the University of Cambridge about the development of apps in general by its Psychometrics Centre given this case and the misuse by Kogan," he said. Aleksander Kogan was the researcher who built the quiz used by Cambridge Analytica.

"We want to thank CNBC for bringing this case to our attention," Archibong added.

The revelation comes as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg prepares to answer questions before Congress this week stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees and the House Energy and Commerce Committee are expected to quiz him on what the site is doing to enhance user privacy, and prevent foreign actors from using Facebook to meddle in future elections. 

Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal erupted, Zuckerberg has claimed personal responsibility for the data privacy leaks, and the company has launched several initiatives to increase user control over their data. 

Meet CubeYou

CubeYou boasts on its website that it uses census data and various web and social apps on Facebook and Twitter to collect personal information. CubeYou then contracts with advertising agencies that want to target certain types of Facebook users for ad campaigns.

CubeYou's site says it has access to personally identifiable information (PII) such as first names, last names, emails, phone numbers, IP addresses, mobile IDs and browser fingerprints. 

On a cached version of its website from March 19, it also said it keeps age, gender, location, work and education, and family and relationship information. It also has likes, follows, shares, posts, likes to posts, comments to posts, check-ins and mentions of brands/celebrities in a post. Interactions with companies are tracked back to 2012 and are updated weekly, the site said.

"This PII information of our panelists is used to verify eligibility (we do not knowingly accept panelists under the age of 18 in our panel), then match and/or fuse other online and offline data sources to enhance their profiles," CubeYou wrote.

The company's website currently claims it has more than 10 million opted-in panelists, but the cached March 19 version said it had "an unbiased panel of more than 45 million people globally." (Click the images in this story to make them bigger.)

[url=https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/08/cubeyou-cambridge-like-app-collected-data-on-millions-from-facebook.html#][Image: Screen%20Shot%202018-04-06%20at%201.50.58%20PM.png]

CubeYou collected a lot of this data through online apps that are meant to be entertaining or fun.

An ad agency exec who met with the company confirmed CubeYou said it mostly collects information through quizzes.

According to its website, one of CubeYou's "most viral apps" is a Facebook quiz created in conjunction with the University of Cambridge called "You Are What You Like." It is meant "to predict a user's personality based on the pages s/he liked on Facebook."

Two versions of this app still were active on Facebook as of Sunday morning. The most recent version of this app has been renamed "Apply Magic Sauce," (YouAreWhatYouLike.com redirects to

ApplyMagicSauce.com), and existed on the platform as recently as Sunday morning. Another version still called "You Are What You Like" is also available.

[Image: cubeyouonpage.JPG]

When a user clicks on the "App Terms" link for the Apply Magic Sauce app, it links to a page saying that the information collected through the quiz is intended for "non-exclusive access for research purposes only" and only for "non-profit academic research that has no connection whatsoever to any commercial or profit-making purpose or entity."

[Image: ApplyMagicSauce.JPG]

[Image: Toccrop.JPG]

After CNBC contacted Facebook for this story, Facebook said there were two previous versions of the app named "You Are What You Like," one created in 2013, which was deleted by the developer, and one submitted later in 2013.

Both of those prior versions had similar disclaimers on Facebook about being used for academic research purposes.

In addition, those prior versions were able to get access to information from friends of the people who took the quiz — as also happened in the Cambridge Analytica case. Until 2015, Facebook allowed developers to access information on Facebook friends as long as the original app user opted in, a loophole that expanded the database of personal information considerably. 

If the original user still remained opted in, CubeYou could theoretically still access their data to this day.

CubeYou and Cambridge U's response

When reached for comment, CubeYou CEO Federico Treu said the app had the right disclaimers on a separate site. He said the company was involved with developing the app and website, but only worked with Cambridge University from December 2013 to May 2015.

Treu said CubYou only collected data from that time and has not had access since June 2015 to data from new people who have taken the quiz.

He also pointed out that the YouAreWhatYouLike.com website has different — and looser — terms of usage than the Facebook terms that CNBC discovered.

The website says, "the information you submit to You Are What You Like may be stored and used for academic and business purposes, and also disclosed to third parties, including for example (but not limited to) research institutions. Any disclosure will be strictly in an anonymous format, such that the information can never be used to identify you or any other individual user." (Italics added by CNBC.)
He also denied CubeYou has access to friends' data if a user opted in, and said it only connects friends who have opted into the app individually. 

Cambridge University said CubeYou's involvement was limited to developing a website. 
"We were not aware of Cubeyou's claims on their blog," the University of Cambridge Psychometrics Center said in a statement.

"Having had a look now, several of these appear to be misleading and we will contact them to request that they clarify them. For example, we have not collaborated with them to build a psychological prediction model — we keep our prediction model secret and it was already built before we started working with them," the institution said.

"Our relationship was not commercial in nature and no fees or client projects were exchanged. They just designed the interface for a website that used our models to give users insight on their [the users'] data. Unfortunately collaborators with the University of Cambridge sometimes exaggerate their connection to Cambridge in order to gain prestige from its academics' work," it added.

'A great place for us to get smart about the consumer'

CubeYou certainly claimed it was able to use this data to target Facebook users, and advertisers seem to have bought the pitch.

CubeYou's website says its customers include global communications firm Edelman, and sports and entertainment agency Octagon. It also works with advertising agencies including 72 and Sunny (which counts Google, Adidas and Coors Light as clients), the Martin Agency (Discover, Geico, Experian), and Legacy Marketing (L'Oreal, Hilton, TGI Fridays), among others.

The site does not say which CubeYou data was used on which projects, but all agencies' testimonials talk about how CubeYou's data has allowed more understanding of potential customers.

"CubeYou is a great place for us to get smart about the consumer," one customer testimonial from Legacy Marketing says. "We primarily use Mintel for our research, but there's very little consumer segmentation and I think that the greatest benefit of a tool like CubeYou is you can get highly nuanced data about demographics, psychographics and interests so easily."

WATCH:  Here's how to download a copy of everything Facebook knows about you

[Image: 105093258-3ED2-REQ-Seq90-032718.600x400....1522186358]

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"Former manager says he warned Facebook about potential privacy risks in 2012"

By DAVID MORGAN CBS NEWS April 9, 2018, 11:12 AM

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will give testimony to three Congressional committees in two hearings this week. He'll address how Facebook's user data was improperly accessed by Cambridge Analytica.

The consulting firm used the information for politically-targeted advertising during the 2016 presidential election.

Around 87 million Facebook users had their information mined.

This all comes as Facebook suspended another data analytics firm, CubeYou, for allegedly collecting user data improperly. Facebook only took action after a news outlet alerted the company.

Facebook suspends data analytics firm CubeYou amid scandal (CNET)
CubeYou told CBS News in a statement that it "takes great care to collect data in compliance with all relevant privacy provisions and laws."

Sandy Parakilas, who used to lead the team at Facebook responsible for data privacy violations on the company's app platform, says he warned Facebook in 2012 about potential risks, like the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

When asked on "CBS This Morning" Monday what he wants to hear from Zuckerberg, Parakilas said, "He needs to address the corporate governance of Facebook. He is unaccountable at the moment. He controls the company 100 percent. And so it's not a good situation to have someone who has that much power over a company of this much importance."

"You say he's unaccountable, but he's on the hook right now and being talked about every second," said co-host John Dickerson. "He's going in front of Congress, and they've just lost millions of dollars in the market. That's a lot of pressure on him; he seems pretty accountable."

"That's a lot of pressure, but keep in mind, no one can fire him," Parakilas said. "There is no independent board that can step in and say, 'Mark, you're not doing a good enough job, we need you to step aside.'"

Parakilas explained how outside app developers have been able to access Facebook users' private information:

"It's important to remember that apps on Facebook, when you use them, they ask you for permission to access specific kinds of data, whether it's your name or your e-mail address or your friends list or photos or other information. And once you click 'Allow' or tap 'Allow,' all that information passes from Facebook to the application developer.

"And the problem is that, once the data goes to the developer, there is no insight into what the developer is doing with the data, and there is no control by Facebook as to what they do. This has been a known problem since 2010."

"Why does Facebook allow all these apps to have access to our private data?" asked co-host Norah O'Donnell.

"It's a good question. The reason that they wanted to do that to begin with is they wanted developers to build really rich, full-featured applications that were social for the platform."

"That would then help Facebook make money," O'Donnell said.


Parakilas left Facebook in 2012, and went to work for two years afterwards for CitizenNet, a company that did social advertising, including on Facebook, working closely in partnership with his former employer. "I continued to work with the company, and I continued to believe in the company. It's only recently that I've started to become really concerned about some of the implications of what this data can be used for," he said.

Like what? "What's new is that there are companies like Cambridge Analytica that are able to use this data to understand and predict how you're going to vote. They can predict your personality type. That's why they wanted this data from Facebook.

"And according to Chris Wylie, who is the whistleblower of Cambridge Analytica, they're building all these models that can predict your behavior. And then they can use that information to go back into Facebook and buy ads that target you and try to manipulate you based on your personality and your voting preference."

Co-host Gayle King said, "Facebook says they have taken steps to prevent this from happening again, including banning app developers who don't agree to audits, making privacy tools easier to find, and showing users how to revoke data permissions. Is that enough?"

"They've taken some steps to address some of the most obvious concerns here," Parakilas replied. "Frankly, the way the platform was built to begin with wasn't built with the safety of users in mind, and that's a huge problem. They could have built it in a much different way where they had a much more limited set of features and they controlled the data, and they just allowed developers to access modules that would let you see friends and the like."

King asked, "Do you think you could have done more? Do you take any responsibility? If you saw this coming, do you think you should have shouted a little louder?"

"I probably could have done more, to be totally frank," he replied. "I saw some of the risks coming, and other people at the company obviously understood this risk as well."

When asked if he brought his concerns directly to Zuckerberg or to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Parakilas said, "I don't remember having a specific conversation with Mark or Sheryl, but this was well known at the company. There was a Wall Street journal article in 2010 about this issue, about a company called Rapleaf that was taking application data, personally identifiable data from Facebook, and passing it, getting that information and then selling it to ad networks."

So when he heard about the Cambridge Analytica breach, what did he think? "I thought, oh, no. This is something that they've known about, that I've known about, that I tried to raise some alarm about, and now it's being used for a really devastating purpose."

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