Facebook has announced that it has disabled a feature in its search tool that previously allowed users to find the profiles of other people on the social media platform by just entering a phone number or email address into the site’s search bar. Mike Schroepfer, Chief Technology Officer at Facebook, said in a blog post that while the functionality could help people find more friends on the social networking site, it could also have allowed bad actors to extract public profile information by using the phone numbers or email addresses they already possess, noting the scope of the activity the company has observed.
The move is just a part of a broader overhaul that the Menlo Park, California-based company is introducing to its platform in response to calls for more robust data privacy measures following the discovery of a data misuse affecting the private information of tens of millions of Facebook users allegedly perpetrated by Cambridge Analytica, a British data mining and political consulting firm that was hired by the camp of Donald J. Trump back in 2016 to assist in his campaign for his presidential bid. Cambridge Analytica allegedly mined the information of a huge number of Facebook users and exploited the data in a bid to influence the results of the 2016 U.S. elections. In the blog post, Schroepfer revealed that from the initial rough estimate of 50 million private data, Facebook now believes up to 87 million users mostly in the United States may have been affected by the Cambridge Analytica data misuse, suggesting a wider scope of the data misuse than previously believed.
In an effort to address the data privacy scandal, Facebook will start to notify users if Cambridge Analytica may have harvested their data as part of a move to give users a broader set of controls of the apps they use on the site. Starting on April 9, Facebook users will begin to see a link at the top of their News Feed to check what apps they use and what information they are sharing with those apps. Other changes Facebook just added to its ecosystem are related to the APIs for events, groups, pages, and the Instagram Platform API. These changes come in conjunction with Facebook’s move to revise the terms of service and its data policy to provide more transparency as to what kind of user data is collected.