News World Australian agency to probe Facebook after shocking revelation
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Australian agency to probe Facebook after shocking revelation

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Facebook says Cambridge Analytica may have had improper access to the data of 87 million users. Photo: AAP
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Australian’s privacy commissioner will conduct a formal investigation into Facebook after the US social media giant revealed up to one in 50 local users may have had their personal information accessed by Cambridge Analytica.

The probe will establish whether the Mark Zuckerberg-led multi-billion dollar behemoth breached the Australian privacy act.

Facebook has admitted 311,127 Australian users are likely among the up to 87 million users worldwide whose data was unknowingly and “improperly” shared with the British political consultancy agency.

“All organisations that are covered by the Privacy Act have obligations in relation to the personal information that they hold,” Acting Information and Privacy Commissioner privacy commissioner Angelene Falk said on Thursday.

“This includes taking reasonable steps to ensure that personal information is held securely, and ensuring that customers are adequately notified about the collection and handling of their personal information.”

Cambridge Analytica developed controversial tools for use in political campaigns and had sought to assist Donald Trump’s 2016 run for US president

Belinda Barnet, a data analytics expert at Swinburne University, says profile data like that collected by the group is just the tip of the iceberg.

Social media companies collect data on every click made on their websites and consider that information their property, leaving users unable to adjust access to it in privacy settings.

“All the data collected while you interact with the platform should be transparent, that should be available to you,” Dr Barnet said.

I’d like to see transparency about which third-party organisations including advertisers have access to your profile data, your data points and the inferences drawn from those data points.

“If things keep happening, governments are going to have to regulate to make (these changes happen).”

Meanwhile, the 87 million figure may not even be correct.

Facebook admitted it was the “best estimate” of the maximum number of accounts that installed CA’s app, and the friends of those app users whose data may have also been shared.

“We do not know precisely what data the app shared with Cambridge Analytica or exactly how many people were impacted,” Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer said in a statement.

Mr Schroepfer also noted that, up until Thursday, some of the company’s software tools had allowed apps to scrape data from private events and private groups.

Among other changes to the platform, Messenger and Facebook Lite users on Android will have less call and SMS metadata uploaded from their phones to Facebook’s servers.

Facebook It said it was taking steps to restrict the personal data available to third-party app developers.

The world’s largest social media company has been hammered by investors and faces anger from users, advertisers and legislators after a series of scandals about fake news stories, election-meddling and privacy.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg will testify about the matter next week before the US House Energy and Commerce Committee, the panel said on Wednesday.

The previous estimate of more than 50 million Facebook users affected by the data leak came from two newspapers, The New York Times and London’s Observer, based on their investigations of Cambridge Analytica.

Mr Schroepfer did not provide details of how Facebook came to determine its higher estimate, but he said Facebook would tell people if their information may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.

A representative from Cambridge Analytica could not immediately be reached for comment.

-With agencies