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Up to 311,127 Australian Facebook users may have had harvested data passed on to Cambridge Analytica

Facebook has this morning revealed that more than 300,000 Australian users of its service may have had their information improperly shared with controversial digital consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

The company said that it estimates a maximum of 311,127 local Facebook users could have seen some of their data harvested and passed on to Cambridge Analytica.

Zuckerberg: “It’s my responsibility – I started the place and I run it.”

Facebook went on the front foot with founder Mark Zuckerberg fronting an hour-long press conference this morning in which he took responsibility for looser security settings in the past and promised to do better in the future.

The company simultaneously released its estimate of the worst case scenario for the number of users who may have had some of their data lifted from the service.

Australia was the tenth most affected market globally. More than 70m US users may have had their information passed on. The total number affected globally could have been as high as 87m, Facebook said.

Source: Facebook (Click to enlarge)

The Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in the UK a fortnight ago with revelations that Cambridge Analytica had obtained data from a researcher who had created a personality test app. When users agreed to share their information with the app, it also allowed the researcher to access information about friends they were connected to.

Today’s numbers are based on the maximum number of people who might have installed the app, along with those who may have had their information shared with the app by their friends.

Since the announcement, Cambridge Analytica has tweeted to say that it licensed data for 30m individuals, not the 87m warned of by Facebook.

Cambridge Analytica – which specialises on running political campaigns – also insists that it deleted the data once it was warned by Facebook that it had been improperly obtained.

Facebook also today revealed a series of changes to its handling of user data on the platform.

The changes include tightening up the data that apps based on the company’s events service can get their hands on. Apps based on events will no longer be able to access guest lists or posts on the event wall.

Access for apps to brand pages and private groups is also being locked down.

And in a major change for apps that use Facebook Login, from today, apps will be tightly limited on what information they can request. The update said: “We will also no longer allow apps to ask for access to personal information such as religious or political views, relationship status and details, custom friends lists, education and work history, fitness activity, book reading activity, music listening activity, news reading, video watch activity, and games activity. In the next week, we will remove a developer’s ability to request data people shared with them if it appears they have not used the app in the last three months.”

Another change likely to impact those working in social media marketing will be changes to how user information on Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook, can be accessed by apps.

During Zuckerberg’s call, he repeatedly took responsibility for the issues but emphasised that many of the “bad actions” took place in the past would not be possible today.

He said: “At the end of the day, this is my responsibility. I started this place. I run it. And I am responsible for what happens here.

“We’re an idealistic and optimistic company. For the first decade, we really focused on all the good that connecting people brings. And as we rolled Facebook out across the world, people everywhere got a powerful new tool for staying connected, for sharing their opinions, for building businesses.

But it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough. We didn’t focus enough on preventing abuse and thinking through how people could use these tools to do harm as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, hate speech, in addition to developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of what our responsibility is, and that was a huge mistake. It was my mistake.

“Across every part of our relationship with people, we’re broadening our view of our responsibility, from just giving people tools to recognizing that it’s on us to make sure those tools are used well.”

He added: “Life is about learning from the mistakes and figuring out what you need to do to move forward.”

Zuckerberg also argued that the company has never been in the business of selling data about its users, as its business model requires helping advertisers accurately target its users on the platform. He said: “For some reason we haven’t been able to kick this notion for years that people think we will sell data to advertisers. We don’t. That’s not been a thing that we do. Actually it just goes counter to our own incentives. Even if we wanted to do that, it just wouldn’t make sense to do that.”

He added that Facebook users prefer the platform to have enough information about them to show them relevant advertising.

He said: “People tell us that if they’re going to see ads, they want the ads to be good. And the way to make the ads good, is by making it so that when someone tells us they have an interest, they like technology or they like skiing or whatever it is they like, that the ads are actually tailored to what they care about. So, like most of the hard decisions that we make, this is one where there is a trade-off between values that people really care about. On the one hand people want relevant experiences, and on the other hand I do think that there is some discomfort for how data is used in systems like ads. But I think the feedback is overwhelming on the side of wanting a better experience.”

Asked whether the furore had affected user behaviour or led to any reduction of support from advertisers, he said: “I don’t think there has been any meaningful impact we’ve observed.”

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