Data of over three million Facebook users mined by Cambridge University academics has been publicly available for download for years, New Scientist reports. The information was collected by myPersonality quiz using Facebook logins, not unlike what one Aleksandr Kogan did with a "This Is Your Digital Life" app in 2014 after collecting data on some 87 million users and handing it over to the now-defunct Cambridge Analytica. Mr. Kogan is also listed as being associated with the myPersonality project, albeit only in the sense that he was granted access to the data after registering as a collaborator, which was the only requirement for downloading it.
The myPersonality website where the data was available for download has last been updated in 2016 and was taken down in the meantime, with the initiative itself being run by Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell from the Cambridge University Psychometrics Centre. The myPersonality app has been suspended by Facebook early last month due to possible policy violations, the firm's Product Partnerships VP Ime Archibong told TechCrunch. Mr. Stillwell claims the Menlo Park, California-based social media giant has been aware of the program since at least 2011, noting how its purpose has been purely academic, with its collaborators producing over a hundred research papers based on its data to date. Obtaining the information was as straightforward as registering to be a collaborator on the project, which some 280 individuals from close to 150 organizations did for various purposes. The dataset contained user responses to highly personal questionnaires and the deanonymization methods utilized by the researchers were easily reversible, New Scientist claims.
While only a single known data breach stemmed from the project throughout its nine-year history, the episode underscores Facebook's wider issues with attempting to improve the privacy of its users, with the crux of the problem being its inability to police app developers and identify datasets obtained prior to its 2015 policy change that forbade sharing Facebook user data with third parties. The company said yesterday it already banned around 200 apps and investigated thousands as part of its information misuse probe, with myPersonality being one of the currently suspended services that are set to be subjected to an in-depth investigation.