Facebook Says Cambridge Analytica May Have ‘Improperly’ Accessed Personal Data of 87 Million Users

Data firm could have scraped 'most' public profiles

The number is much higher than the 50 million user total reported last month. Getty Images
Headshot of Marty Swant

British data firm Cambridge Analytica may have used the personal information of as many as 87 million Facebook users, according to the social platform.

“Given the scale and sophistication of the activity we’ve seen, we believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped in this way,” Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer wrote in a blog post published today.

Schroepfer revealed the updated total—which is mostly composed of people in the U.S.—at the bottom of a post that outlines how the company is addressing its plans to restrict data access from third-party apps.

The number is much higher than the 50 million user total reported last month by The New York Times and The Guardian. On Monday, the company will begin informing users whether they were among those affected.

Facebook has spent the past two weeks rapidly rolling out updates to how it collects and shares data. New terms include requiring approval of third-party apps before they gain access to Facebook’s Groups API, login approval before apps request access to user information and easier ways for users to know which apps have access to their account.

Today’s update comes exactly a week before CEO Mark Zuckerberg is expected to testify before Congress about whether Cambridge Analytica “improperly” accessed user data after 270,000 people downloaded a personality app back in 2014. Later today, Zuckerberg will hold a press call with journalists.

Facebook also rolled out additional changes to its policies. Starting today, Facebook will no longer let apps use its Events API to access event guest lists or post on an event wall. The company also said it will begin requiring approval before apps can access its Pages API or Groups API.

In a separate blog post earlier today, Facebook vp and chief privacy officer Erin Egan said Facebook plans to make its privacy policies “clearer” without asking for new data collection rights or changing anything a user might have agreed to in the past. She said the company will spend the next week soliciting feedback from users about their existing terms and data policy.

At last week’s privacy conference in Washington, D.C., Facebook deputy chief privacy officer Rob Sherman didn’t confirm or deny the assertion that users think Facebook is an “ethical steward” of data.

“I think it’s really important for us to be an ethical steward of data and to do everything we can to communicate that to people,” he answered. “People aren’t going to trust Facebook, and they’re not going to be comfortable using it if we’re not. Certainly, what’s clear over the past week or so is that we’ve lost a lot of trust.”

@martyswant martin.swant@adweek.com Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.