Former Facebook-er: Cambridge Analytica-Style Data-Harvesting Was "Shockingly Routine"

The Cambridge Analytica scandal that erupted over the weekend has snowballed into the biggest threat to CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg's rule since the company's 2012 IPO.

But, as we noted earlier, the manner in which Cambridge Analytica allegedly leveraged the data it purportedly "stole" from Facebook (or rather, refused to delete after receiving it from an intermediary who himself had improperly accessed it, according to the company) isn't all that unusual. Case in point, Carol Davidsen, Obama's director of integration and media analytics during his 2012 campaign, revealed that Facebook knowingly helped the Obama campaign collect as much user data as possible - even from the friends of users who may not have explicitly consented to the data collection.

When Facebook found out about the data mining for political purposes - the same thing they just banned Cambridge Analytica for doing - they "didn't stop us," the Obama staffer said. Representatives from Facebook even traveled to Obama campaign headquarters and candidly told campaign workers, including Davidsen, that they were allowing the Obama campaign do things they wouldn't have allowed other developers to do.

Fast forward nearly six years and Facebook Security Chief Alex Stamos is planning to leave the company in August after clashing with executives over their refusal to prioritize policing how user data is accessed and manipulated over ever-expanding advertising profits.


And now, another former Facebook employee has come forward to reveal that, before the company started tightening its data security practices after its IPO, the type of "unauthorized" access that Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica for was routinely carried out by app developers. The reason? Facebook's advertising business can increase profits by offering more data to advertisers and developers. And the more successful games like FarmVille and Candy Crush become, the more money Facebook - which takes a piece of developers' profits - stands to make.

Combined, these factors created a powerful incentive to look the other way.

Asked what kind of control Facebook had over the data given to outside developers, he replied:

"Zero. Absolutely none. Once the data left Facebook servers there was not any control, and there was no insight into what was going on."

The employee, Sandy Parakilas, first accused Facebook of prioritizing data mining of consumer safety in a New York Times op-ed published in November, when the scandal surrounding a "Russian troll farm's" alleged purchases of Facebook ads and promoted posts was still in full swing.

While the company insists that it has strengthened its oversight in the years since Parakilas's departure, the degree of negligence described by Parakilas is staggering nonetheless. If he had to guess, Parakilas would say that, in reality, the majority of Facebook users have probably had their data improperly sold or shared.

Parakilas said he "always assumed there was something of a black market" for Facebook data that had been passed to external developers. However, he said that when he told other executives the company should proactively "audit developers directly and see what’s going on with the data" he was discouraged from the approach.

He said one Facebook executive advised him against looking too deeply at how the data was being used, warning him: "Do you really want to see what you’ll find?" Parakilas said he interpreted the comment to mean that "Facebook was in a stronger legal position if it didn’t know about the abuse that was happening."

He added: "They felt that it was better not to know. I found that utterly shocking and horrifying."

The developer feature that allowed a UK-based psychology professor to access data from 50 million Facebook users is called "Friends Permission".

That feature was a boon to outside software developers who, from 2007 onwards, were allowed to build quizzes and games that were hosted on the platform. Parakilas says the company could've easily disabled this feature - which helped developers sneakily hoover up the data of friends of assenting users - but it chose not to.

Why? It was making too much money.

The apps proliferated on Facebook in the years leading up to the company’s 2012 initial public offering, an era when most users were still accessing the platform via laptops and computers rather than smartphones.

Facebook took a 30% cut of payments made through apps, but in return enabled their creators to have access to Facebook user data.

Parakilas does not know how many companies sought Friends Permission data before such access was terminated around mid-2014. However, he said he believes tens or maybe even hundreds of thousands of developers may have done so.

Parakilas estimates that "a majority of Facebook users" could have had their data harvested by app developers without their knowledge. The company now has stricter protocols around the degree of access third parties have to data.

* * *

Lawmakers and regulators in both the US and UK are demanding investigations and hearings into the lapse, which they are squarely blaming on Facebook. The company said it would meet with the House Judiciary Committee to brief lawmakers on what happened.

However, any attempts at reconciliation or reform might be too little, too late: Lawmakers are demanding a scalp - somebody to blame for President Trump's improbable electoral triumph over the "eminently qualified" Hilary Clinton.

...And Zuckerberg would be a suitable pariah.


MoreFreedom In.Sip.ient Tue, 03/20/2018 - 15:01 Permalink

People are getting bent out of shape regarding, yes routine, data analysis by people interested in elections, and also speech regarding elections.  Zuckerberg is getting paid millions by politicians for the data he's collected on people (strangely while Julian Assad is being threatened with jail for providing us data on politicians and the politically connected).   And Zuckerberg is too chicken to be honest about what he's doing: it's ironic he's coming under fire for helping a conservative political operative considering how in the tank he was for Hillary, and what he probably gave her campaign for free. 

Ever since people have run for office, they've been trying to figure out how to win people's votes by understanding them, and by speaking to their desires.  Nothing wrong with that, but still people have objected to the use of pollsters, or data collected by people in the business of collecting and selling data.  And they've objected to political advertising as well, ignoring the fact that advertisements don't vote in elections, people do.  And that money doesn't elect politicians, people do. 

Frankly, perhaps we should encourage Russia and other countries, to place political ads here.  The money goes into American's pockets for merely trying to sway people's vote choices, and it costs the Russians money to do it. 



In reply to by In.Sip.ient

californiagirl Tarzan Tue, 03/20/2018 - 16:23 Permalink

Why do you think Zuck hired Sandberg? Sandberg is ideal for arranging data sharing with the NSA and other intelligence organizations. She already had experience as a Deep State operative, as part of the SES (Senior Executive Services).  BTW, Obama expanded the SES to 8,000+, all appointed by his Chicago swamp helpers. Since Jimmy Carter set it up, the SES had only managed to grow to approximately 1,000. Through an executive order exempting SES appointees from most vetting, and streamlining the process, Obama rapidly multiplied their numbers.  The SES insert themselves between the the Whitehouse and the operational government in every executive branch department, and cannot be fired by the cabinet members. They even have a separate committee that determines their pay, which is higher than almost all other government positions, and can include bonuses. I would imagine that Valerie Jarrett is still running them out of Obama's DC mansion. Who knows, perhaps the Awans were also hired through SES.

In reply to by Tarzan

SRV Tarzan Tue, 03/20/2018 - 16:27 Permalink

Why not?

The crooks ("The Crook" leading the pack) who set Zuck up have been selling data illegally scooped up in congress (yes, spying and selling the data to the highest bidder) for many years!

But the DOJ is charging Imran Awan (who was leading the Doped Blackberry spy ring in congressional committees) with a single count of mortgage fraud... lol (even that's a farce as he used the same scam over a dozen times)!

The corruption is breathtaking... enough to put every US citizen below the poverty line on east street for life... let that sink in and think about the societal issues that could be solved for good!

Hang'em all!

In reply to by Tarzan

JRobby SRV Tue, 03/20/2018 - 17:27 Permalink

Sometime in 2030

"I believe it was March? Yep, the 3rd week in March 2018"

"What's that Grampy? What happened in March 2018?"

"That was the week Facebook died"

"What the hell is Facebook Grampy?"

In reply to by SRV

Endgame Napoleon MoreFreedom Tue, 03/20/2018 - 16:45 Permalink

The issue is whether or not people know they are the product, not the customer. When it is a political campaign collecting data, do people know they are, in effect, being polled by an indirect method? People have varying degrees of understanding based on their technical acumen.

A lot of it is obvious, as you use the apps, and those pesky humans—with their free—resist it to some degree, not revealing all of their ideas or emotional reactions to the researchers’ measurement tools, refusing to be petrie-dish fruit for Swampers or businesses.

You would have to be a programmer, a software engineer, a product designer, etc., with a friggin’ degree from Standford, to really understand the details of what these people are doing. It is complex. I have tried to read up on it.

But it seems like their goal is to tailor the content to individual users; that is why they filter the articles or other content. They apparently did not find it as profitable to just flood users with a lot of disparate content, letting users identify their preferences “organically.” 

It was done for business purposes, not for political purposes.

The filtering gives them a further service to sell to advertisers who do not want to waste money by targeting groups that would never buy their products, not that you can always assume that, as you learn in face-to-face sales. But online salespeople do everything based on volume.

It might be that the political stuff here is mostly just a byproduct of the way they try to sell their service to marketers: tailoring content, trying to identify accurate prospective customers for advertisers to target. It sounds like they were just treating the political clients the same way.

Everyone knows the FB people are big liberals, but many voting machines are owned by Diebold, a known conservative businessman, and liberals used that fact to challenge Bush II’s victory all through his [2 terms] in office, refusing to accept that he won for other reasons. Someone of some political persuasion owns everything in this country. Are we going to stop eating cereal if the farmer who grows the wheat disagrees with us politically? 

The article below is probably kind of old, and these internet companies change their approach a lot. It was interesting, though.

To get away from this sort of thing—removing the invasive aspect of data mining—FB would probably have to go a subscription model, adopting a profit-making method more like a newspaper or a magazine.

Would that make their stock price go down to the ground? Would app makers stop working on their product so much if the profit declined? I think these apps require multiple employees, not just one guy working on his avocation for sheer love in his basement. 

Within possibly limited profit-making parameters, some of the independent iPhone app makers keep working on their product, which is impressive, but some don’t, I notice.

Reality: Whether or not you like FB, they have to make money to support themselves and their employees, just like everyone else. Many of us in sales-related fields have worked for free, nearly for free, or we have paid money for so-called “jobs” in the mine field of pyramid schemes in America’s scam-job landscape. We know what that means. Few can really afford to work for fee for long unless it really is just a hobby. 


In reply to by MoreFreedom

Chupacabra-322 MoreFreedom Tue, 03/20/2018 - 16:54 Permalink

@ More,


Don’t for one second let the Political Ass Munch Theater distract you from what this is really about.  



They’ll bring him in cry wolf, regulation, Fairness Doctrine all the way to CONTROLLING free speech on the Internet which is why ZuckerFuckFace & CONgress are all “in on it.”


They want to impose similar “Hate Crime” (Whatever the Fuck that is) Legislation to mirror that of the Britain & the EU.    

In reply to by MoreFreedom

Countrybunkererd BennyBoy Tue, 03/20/2018 - 14:37 Permalink

Yes, but why bother?  FB would be under 100 right now if the "smart money" thought the users were smart enough or cared in the slightest about this.  LOL.  Why do I wonder in astonishment at those people who believe the world is flat?

Alexa, build me a house with a built in tin foil roof.  If you can't do it, Alexa, ask your cousin. 

I think this tells us what we need to know:

Facebook Inc. Cl A

In reply to by BennyBoy

Endgame Napoleon Countrybunkererd Tue, 03/20/2018 - 17:38 Permalink

They claim people do not care about privacy, valuing convenience above all, rather than assuming that users are too stupid to realize they are ceding privacy. I don’t think users like it; they are just stoical.

It is the same thing with the economy; people have stoically accepted it for decades. The bad economy—with 50 million citizens out of the workforce and half of Americans employed only part time—plays into this, giving FB and other data miners a lot of bored users with time on their hands.

The ironic thing is that marketers love to chase the underemployed masses, including the jobless and the 80 million part-workers with on-average earned income of $13k, tapping a dry, dry well.…

Or, maybe, they are chasing the purchasing power of the womb-productive underemployed—particularly their up-to $6,341 in refundable (EITC) child-tax-credit cash, which is freed up for Amazon purchases, etc. since their major household bills are covered by unearned income from government. Thing is, even they seem to be just paying down their Christmas-on-credit debt.

It is bad enough when these online advertisers pay good fiat to social media companies to get nothin’ but what ZHedgers regard as a bag of worthless fiat from America's employed half.

They get near zero from many out-of-the-workforce social media users. Maybe, that is why they are so desperate to filter out all of the user riff raff, getting to the deep-pocketed social media users. That is what some of these data-mining methods seem to be after: a better-quality lead list.

In reply to by Countrybunkererd

Akzed BennyBoy Tue, 03/20/2018 - 15:07 Permalink

Speaking of software algorithms, those that suppress conservative/rightist viewpoints are the same across all platforms, according to Q. I'm not no genius but that may point to a common source. #qanon

In reply to by BennyBoy

Everybodys All… Tue, 03/20/2018 - 14:30 Permalink

The only crime that makes this data mining alarming to the powers that be is that a Conservative used the Facebook data. If this is the Obama/Hillary crime syndicate no one gives a damn.

Chupacabra-322 Everybodys All… Tue, 03/20/2018 - 17:07 Permalink

@ Every,


It’s the mechanism of how Crime Syndicate’s function specifically the Criminal Globalist Administions that have been able to Tyrannically Govern with Impunity decade after decade.


Present Administration’s never Investigate previous ones out of fear that future Administrations may investigate the current one.


Thus, making them Criminal Accessories to previous Administrations War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity & Crimes Against The American People.

War Criminal Obama’s “moving forward” on War Criminal Bush Administration Torture, Lying The American People into War, the begining of mass Surveillance of The American room 641A at Criminal AT&T are but just some examples of the Tyrannical Lawlessness we see before us.


There are absolutely No stature of limitations on War Crimes.

In reply to by Everybodys All…

Jambo Mambo Bill Tue, 03/20/2018 - 14:41 Permalink

Is Zuk pumping FB crap stocks? Damn !
I wanted it to go below the 162 support towards the next strong support on 155... Come on ! Nothing is more fun than shorting Face-Crooks !


whatisthat Tue, 03/20/2018 - 14:49 Permalink

I would observe this post confirms (once again ) the level of corruption of the Obama administration and Congress and the FBI  that requires investigation and prosecution and imprisonment of hundreds of corrupt individuals in public and private sectors... of 

NYC80 Tue, 03/20/2018 - 14:55 Permalink

I've brought up all the spying done on us with people many times in recent years, and I've come to one simple conclusion: they already love Big Brother.

Akzed Tue, 03/20/2018 - 15:02 Permalink

It's interesting to me that all of this FB stuff is coming out at once.

It might even be orchestrated, a counterpunch, a second front; who knows?


Consuelo Tue, 03/20/2018 - 15:04 Permalink

Hey Bay Area/Palo Alto Facebook employees:   

Better check the mortgage on that recently purchased $1.5M bungalow fixer-upper you just bought...

tripletail Tue, 03/20/2018 - 15:05 Permalink

I'm sorry but I gotta think every intel agency on the planet, worth a shite, has been mining Facebook data more or less since day one. Tell me I'm wrong!

abgary1 Tue, 03/20/2018 - 15:07 Permalink

The truth about the tech giants, that being they are in the business of data collection and social engineering, is coming out.

Get off the net, stop carrying around a mobile devise and use cash.

Anything that leaves a digital footprint can be tracked which results in the loss of our privacy and thus our freedom.

Do not give away our freedom for convenience sake.

Without freedom we have nothing.

MusicIsYou Tue, 03/20/2018 - 15:12 Permalink

Only a dope thinks harvesting everybody's data is valuable, because it's all mostly an echo chamber of idiots who don't even know what they want, want what they don't have, and aren't content with what they do have.

Dr. Acula Tue, 03/20/2018 - 15:13 Permalink

Even 20,000 workers isn't enough to stop people spreading "fake news" (aka truths) on Facebook. Facebook has backfired: instead of elites spying on the hoi polloi, it is being used as a tool for the hoi polloi to spy on the elites. So the Deep State has decided they have to pull the plug.


just the tip Tue, 03/20/2018 - 15:16 Permalink

this sounds like one of those whistleblower thingys where the guy/girl gets $100mil US for doing the right thing.  or, gets a nail gun treatment for pissing off the wrong guy in langley.

i mean really, the dumbfucks on all these social media sites know what is going on, and they don't give a shit.  so fuck 'em all.

never participated in any of them so you can bet i don't care.  and i'm sure i'm on some list somewhere and don't care about that either.  fuck 'em.

MusicIsYou Tue, 03/20/2018 - 15:24 Permalink

What good is oh like say: harvesting a liberal's data? In that most things they are for doing today, someday they'll be against. Only dopes who haven't been around the block a few times think harvesting everybody's data (consuming acres of memory space, I might add spending $billions) is a great idea.

Downtoolong Tue, 03/20/2018 - 16:08 Permalink

Meanwhile, Facebook Management claims “The entire company is outraged they were deceived by Cambridge Analytica”

Who they hell do these arrogant pricks and princesses think they’re kidding?

Did they just hire the Podesta Group to do their PR?

The only thing Facebook is outraged with Cambridge Analytica about was that CA acquired user data by means that didn’t require them to pay for it.

Facebook would have gladly sold CA fifty or one hundred million user profiles for the right price and provided them with tools to help them sort it out too.

thebriang Tue, 03/20/2018 - 19:10 Permalink

No shit sherlock, Facebook only exists to track and sell data about its "users".
Every company that buys access to the Facebook api is doing the exact same thing, they just called out CA cuz they hate trump.
You'd be amazed how many people get paid to look at your shitty social media accounts, like that twitter stalking project for a fortune 50 I worked on for 9 months. Ohh... shh... it's a sneakret.