Facebook sues Ukrainian app developers for scraping user data

Alfred Osborne
March 14, 2019

More than 60,000 internet browsers used by Facebook users had been compromised, it said.

The social network giant has been at the center of a firestorm for almost two years after it was discovered that Cambridge Analytica obtained user data for 2016 election meddling.

The apps scraped users' public info, like name, gender, age and profile picture, but also harvested private data like nonpublic lists of friends. Who is your yang?' and 'What kind of dog are you according to your zodiac sign?' according to the lawsuit. Facebook discovered their scheme "through an investigation of malicious extensions", and it suspended all the accounts around October 12th 2018, then contacted browser makers to make sure the applications were removed. This announcement made by the company came at the same time when a report on the BBC revealed that there had been a breach on people's private messages on the website. Those hackers claimed to have information from 120 million Facebook accounts, but cybersecurity experts were dubious; if Facebook's 63,000-browser estimate is accurate, it suggests that this skepticism was warranted.

Facebook attempts to distance itself from fault in the suit, claiming that users "effectively compromised their own browsers" by installing the extensions.

Facebook now sues the hackers, who operated from the Ukrainian capital Kiev, for illegal hacking, fraud and violating the terms of service of the social medium.

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Whether Facebook can expect any success from the suit is up in the air, given it can't compel Gorbachov or Sluchevsky to come to the United States to face trial. Last year, the BBC questioned whether Facebook had been proactive enough in addressing the malicious plugins.

From the implications of the lawsuit, Facebook may have allowed these hackers into their network by approving them as developers.

A pair of Ukrainian hackers used seemingly innocuous online quizzes and surveys, with titles like "What does your eye color say about you?", to gain access to private Facebook user data and to target users with "unauthorized" advertisements, the social media company says.

About 63,000 Facebook users are believed to be have installed the browser extensions. In both cases, the defendants are overseas and seem unlikely to suffer serious consequences.

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