Facebook suspends 200 apps in post-Cambridge Analytica investigation

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The Russian ads, released by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, offer the public the first in-depth look at the attempts to divide the U.S. ahead of the 2016 election.
USA TODAY

Facebook has suspended about 200 apps that had access to large amounts of user data four years ago, part of its internal investigation in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the investigation in March several days after the social network said the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica and its parent company had failed to delete personal data belonging to 87 million Facebook users that it had improperly obtained.

Since then, Zuckerberg testified in Congress about the crisis and Cambridge Analytica has shut down. During his testimony, Zuckerberg promised that Facebook would investigate any other apps that had access to massive amounts of user data — as Cambridge Analytica did — prior to 2014 when the social site reduced the amount of data accessible by Facebook-connected apps.

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That investigation is ongoing and, so far, as part of the app audit, “thousands of apps have been investigated and around 200 have been suspended — pending a thorough investigation into whether they did in fact misuse any data,” said Ime Archibong, Facebook’s vice president of product partnerships for Facebook, in a post on Facebook’s web site.

With any apps that raise concerns, Facebook will conduct interviews, seek information about the app and data it accessed, and “perform audits that may include on-site inspections,” Archibong said.

Should Facebook find any apps that did misuse data, they will be banned and users will be told on Facebook’s site, where users can tell whether Cambridge Analytica had access to their data.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal arose from a psychology app called This is Your Digital Life, which was downloaded four years ago by some 300,000 Facebook users. The app not only collected data on users, but also their Facebook friends. That larger data set, which included data on 87 million users, was passed onto Cambridge Analytica, against Facebook’s policies, according to Facebook.

Facebook revealed the data misuse incident just before The New York Times and the U.K.’s Observer published reports about the incursion. Cambridge Analytica, which worked on President Trump’s campaign, has denied using the Facebook data on behalf of the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.

As the internal investigation into the Cambridge Analytica scandal continues, new light has been shed on the Russian campaign to use Facebook to manipulate the 2016 U.S. elections. The House Intelligence Committee last week released more than 3,500 ads that Facebook says were purchased by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency to sway public sentiment.

Ten million Americans saw the ads, the social network estimates, which ran over about two years. Some of the ads denounced President Trump and candidate Hillary Clinton. Many targeted racial divisions in American society.

Special counsel Robert Mueller in February filed criminal charges against 13 Russian nationals and three businesses including the Internet Research Agency for attempting to undermine the presidential election, including aims at boosting Trump’s campaign. Federal law bars foreign interests from donating to campaigns or working to influence U.S. elections.

More: Thousands of Facebook ads bought by Russians to fool U.S. voters released by Congress

More: Facebook to let you delete data it tracks on you from apps and on the Web

More: After Facebook hearings, users want to know: who is protecting my data?

Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

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