Facebook has launched an investigation into another app created by University of Cambridge academics after it sucked up the data of millions of users.
The New Scientist reported that Facebook is investigating personality quiz app myPersonality, which the science journal said secured the information of around 3 million user profiles.
The myPersonality case has loud echoes of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the data firm was given access to millions of US Facebook profiles harvested by researcher Aleksandr Kogan’s This Is Your Digital Life quiz app. In fact, the New Scientist said Kogan was a collaborator on the myPersonality project until 2014.
The myPersonality app — which is still referenced on the University of Cambridge website— was created in 2007 by David Stillwell, the deputy director of the university’s Psychometrics Centre. According to Cambridge, it encouraged Facebook users to take psychometric tests up until 2012.
MyPersonality “collected data from over 6 million volunteers” during the five years it was active, 40% of whom “opted in to share data from their Facebook profile.” It created “one of the largest social science research databases in history,” according to information on the Cambridge website. Crucially, the academics also shared the data.
“This data was anonymised and samples of it were shared with registered academic collaborators around the world through the myPersonality project, resulting in over 45 scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals,” said the Cambridge website.
Facebook confirmed to Business Insider that it is investigating myPersonality after suspending the app on April 7. “If myPersonality refuses to cooperate or fails our audit, we will ban it,” said Ime Archibong, Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships.
It follows Facebook confirming on Monday that it has suspended 200 apps and investigated thousands of others in case they misused people’s data.
Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office is also looking into the matter due to reports that the data was poorly anonymised. A username and password to access some of the data were shared by a lecturer on GitHub, according to the New Scientist. An ICO spokeswoman told Business Insider: “We are aware of an incident related to the myPersonality app and are making enquiries.”
A University of Cambridge spokesman said myPersonality was created by Stillwell five years before he joined the institution. The spokesman added that the app did not go through its “ethical approval processes,” and the university does not “own or control the app or data.”
Business Insider has contacted myPersonality’s creator David Stillwell for comment. He told the New Scientist that Facebook was aware of the app and had participated in meetings discussing the project. “It is, therefore, a little odd that Facebook should suddenly now profess itself to have been unaware of the myPersonality research and to believe that the use of the data was a breach of its terms,” he said.
The New Scientist said Cambridge Analytica, which was shut down earlier this month in a blaze of bad publicity, tried to gain access to the myPersonality data in much the same way it did with Kogan’s research. It was denied, however, on the grounds of its political ambitions.
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