back to article Facebook suspends, investigates CubeYou, another data-harvester

Facebook's slow-motion privacy awakening continued over the weekend, with a data analytics outfit called CubeYou suspended from the platform pending investigation over T&C violations. For some time, privacy advocates have warned that cute-and-popular quizzes linked from Facebook – “Which Star Wars weapon are you?” and the like …

  1. IceC0ld

    Will it make any real difference though :o(

    sadly, even though the old adage of every little helps

    Too little too late still springs to mind :o(

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Will it make any real difference though :o(

      Too little, too late indeed.

      If there's one thing likely to stir politicians into action its the prospect of fighting a skewed election. They certainly don't want that disadvantage. Also if rumours of election corruption / bending are circulating amongst the general population and they're not seen to be doing something about it, then politicians know full well that they're toast. Possibly quite literally in some extreme circumstances.

      So now that this is more out in the open, coupled with an exposure of the abysmal behaviour with other people's data by companies like Facebook, and the dubious tax payment strategies, and the near-monopolistic positions these companies have in the advertising market, and the law enforcement problems caused by them hiding behind the US Communications Decency Act, their profiting from accounts belonging to users engaged in terrorism, I'd say that politicians are now very well armed to do something pretty significant to the companies.

      For instance, how about punitive taxation on advertisers buying ad slots services on Facebook? Plenty of voters would support that if it were couched in terms of "this is an effective way to force a behaviour change". How about making Facebook criminally responsible for illegal content (child porn, terrorist materials, etc) posted by its users? That would probably go down well with the voting public. How about criminal responsibility for fake new, especially if related to politics and especially if originated from outside the <insert your home country name as appropriate>? How about a £5000 fine per data item shared inappropriately? Millions of user records x every time shared x £5000 adds up to a lot of money. How about classing Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, YouTube, etc. as Communication Service Providers (which is what they really are, except that they get away with it at the moment by being OTT), for which you have to be licensed and are then obliged to provide legal intercept capabilities? And, ultimately, there's the option of a Great Firewall of Europe / UK / etc.

      Too Little To Late

      There really is not much limitation on what a government (well, a country's legislators) can do to a company. It's all about motivation to do so, and selling it to the public. A big part of that is PR, and right now Facebook's public image is pretty bad, and to some extent so is Google's, and Twitters, and Apple's, and right now there's a number of countries across Europe that are seriously minded to throw the book at them.

      One can't now see an easy way for the company(ies) to reverse the damage that is being done to their reputations in the public's and the politicians' arenas. They're scum bags, always have been scum bags, and there's spreading realisation that they're scum bags.

      So yes, pathetic actions like this from Facebook are definitely in the category of too little, too late.

      Radical Change of Business Model

      Ultimately the companies cannot properly placate the legal / political / electoral concerns whilst offering pseudo-anonymous services. They cannot placate the anti-trust / data protection / monopoly concerns and make profits whilst offering free / ad-funded services.

      If those concerns translate into laws, that might put the companies out of business (or constrain them to the USA).

      However, by charging for their services, they can resolve those concerns at a stroke. With a proper financial relationship with its users a company can rely on the banking system to attribute a troublesome user account to a real person (note; there's no need for a user's display handle to be their real name). With revenue coming directly from users, there's no need to rely on inefficient analytics, selling ads and the legally difficult business of selling access to user data. This'll probably make the monopoly problem worse, but there's ways of operating a monopoly "for the greater good". And for the companies that survive the transition to this type of business model, their costs will likely reduce (running all those analytics takes a lot of energy), and their profits will likely rise.

      1. Wiltshire

        Re: Will it make any real difference though :o(

        Re << If there's one thing likely to stir politicians into action its the prospect of fighting a skewed election. They certainly don't want that disadvantage. >>

        What disadvantage?

        They have *all* had access to the Facebook data for their campiagns. Back in 2012, it was being reported as a Good Thing and openly used by the Democratic Party.

        What's changed? A few people have woken up? Some Democrats are shocked (shocked I tell you) that Trump's team did the same as them?

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: Will it make any real difference though :o(

          It is welcome that political advertisements will need to identify whose ads they are (authorisation) and that they will be labelled as political – but the 2016 US presidential election is a long way behind us.®

          The "midterms" are fast coming up for Congress and the Senate. Not a big election like Presidential but this a core one that if manipulated could change a lot of things as the entire House is up for election. Given the speed at which Congress moves, I don't expect much between now and then. There probably will be another scandal over this crap and life in government will go on and those who benefit from any "manipulation" to get elected will drag their feet even more on any action.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Will it make any real difference though :o(

            It is welcome that political advertisements will need to identify whose ads they are (authorisation) and that they will be labelled as political – but the 2016 US presidential election is a long way behind us.

            During the election I saw plenty of FB ads for Hillary but never, ever did I see one for Bernie, even though his campaign did buy FB ads. Most Hillary and Donald FB ads I recall were of the format "Shocking breaking news about <candidate> you must see!" type of bullshit and some "Trump sex scandal" ads. Never clicked on one.

            OTOH my FB account has never really been very active, so I don't know if that has anything to do with it.

      2. GIRZiM

        Re: Radical Change of Business Model

        > With revenue coming directly from users, there's no need to rely on inefficient analytics, selling ads and the legally difficult business of selling access to user data.

        If only everyone were as fundamentally decent as you *sigh*.

        You're like the people who believe the urban myth about the guy/gal who woke up in a bath full of ice, missing a kidney. The thing is that the kind of person who'll steal your kidney doesn't leave a trail of paper (receipts for bathtubs), people (from whom thy obtained a second-hand/stolen bathtub) or data (fingerprints and DNA where they broke into an apartment/house to use the bathtub). Nor do they stop at a single kidney but take both kidneys, both lungs, your liver, spleen, eyes and anything else of value.

        The idea that the companies would take our money and that'd be that is as sweetly innocent as the idea that organ-leggers are okay sorts really and care enough to leave you lying in a bathtub full of ice. If only more people were like you the world would be a better place and I salute you for having managed to hold on to your faith in humanity against the odds - you haven't let the bar stewards grind you down.

        What will really happen though is that they'll take our money and still do all the data-harvesting as well.

    2. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Will it make any real difference though :o(

      Funny that. I was pretty sure that any/all of these quizzes harvested data for the harvester's own profit, so how surprising it is to now be informed that they really were only doing it for "research purposes" and passing said slurped data back to Cambridge Analytica University.

      I guess that in ZuckWorld dogs and cats live together in perfect harmony ..

  2. Winkypop Silver badge
    Devil

    It's as if...

    ...the whole thing is just a giant personal information slurping monster designed by people with ulterior motives....

    Hmmmmmm

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: It's as if...

      Well said but...

      90% of the users don't care or are too stupid to realise what the likes of Facebook, Twitter et al are doing with your data (and your life) AND simply won't stop using them like the good addicts they are.

      Now we hear that the CA data (all the 89 million or whatever) is in Russia. Good luck FB with trying to get that deleted.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's as if...

        Now we hear that the CA data (all the 89 million or whatever) is in Russia. Good luck FB with trying to get that deleted.

        If that is all they got, someone in their propaganda operations should be sacked. I would have expected them to have ~ 95%+ of profiles in line with what Zuk has confessed to as "accessed by one or more bots".

        95% is still a far cry from CIA+NSA (and via them GCHQ) which have had access to the full 100% data since the days of Bush junior.

        1. 142

          Re: It's as if...

          > If that is all they got, someone in their propaganda operations should be sacked. I would have expected them to have ~ 95%+ of profiles in line with what Zuk has confessed to as "accessed by one or more bots".

          That's somewhat apples and oranges:

          The stuff that CA got is from people who were tricked into giving them permission, via the "personality testing app" stuff, so they got huge amounts of detailed info on those 80 million people.

          The bots FB describe for the 95% figure were different: There were just auto searching based off phone numbers and email addresses, and so were essentially just scraping info the user had already chosen to make public.

          I suspect FB put out the "95% of public info was accessed by bots" thing to cloud the issue, and take people's focus off the more serious fuckery.

      2. rmason

        Re: It's as if...

        @Steve Davies 3

        That is *the* key point missed by many here with a technical nature.

        The overwhelming majority of FB users DO_NOT_CARE. Not at all, not one bit.

        The people furious about it are a percentage of a percentage, sadly.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Which Star Wars weapon are you?

    I got death star because I'm big and round with a dodgy exhaust port.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    slow-motion car crash

    would be a better phrase

  5. Noonoot

    When Italy puts on its rubber gloves.....

    sono cazzi amari....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: When Italy puts on its rubber gloves.....

      CubeYou has also an Italian CEO and founder... it looks he put on his rubber gloves well before the Authority... now I hope it will be "cazzi amari" for him as well...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'll probably go to the Special Hell for this but...

    (grey alien)

    "Hey, F**knuts, Its Probing Time!!!! "

  7. TheMole

    In case anyone is tempted to believe Zuckerberg....

    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/05/14/facebook_trust_dumb/

  8. Scott Broukell

    "Facebook's slow-motion piracy awakening" - There, fixed that for you.

  9. Wulfhaven
    Facepalm

    The data harvester suspends minor data harvester for harvesting their own ill gotten harvests to investigate how they harvested their stuff.

    This is all just trying to avoid a heavy handed government smackdown before the law comes into action. It's entirely all just window dressing.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Not to mention to placate investors. I bet the regular telephone conferences have turned a bit nasty lately.

  10. Mr Dogshit

    "may include, but is not limited to"

    In other words, anything and everything

  11. Flakk
    Joke

    Historically Speaking

    [...]but recent events suggest users are hard to educate.

    Only recent events?

    1850 AD - "Which end of the rifle is the dangerous end?"

    1850 BC - "Which end of the sword is the dangerous end?"

    18500 BC - "Which end of the rock is the dangerous end?"

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Zuk: 'Ugly Truth' memo - Quick, find someone to Blame!

    When Zuk is questioned this week, will any Politicians finally realize just how insidious 'internet tracking' really is, or will they just get lost in their obsession with Fake News or blaming 3rd Parties. Take Shadow-Profiles:

    1. Installing an Adblocker doesn't stop Facebook from tracking you through your friends. You automatically get added to lookalike groups for tracking and sales purposes etc. Low-hanging-fruit friends / colleagues / family with your email / phone number are basically betraying your trust!

    2. Backroom data deals such as Facebook Hospital-Patient-Slurp or Google NHS-Deepmind. Again Ad-blockers won't save you here either. Neither will Data Brokers scraping info from supermarket loyalty schemes / cards, bank credit reports, mortgages, car loans / credit cards etc.

    3. Shadow Profiles created from tracking non-users from websites with deals with Facebook or hosting Facebook like buttons / Google-Analytics or other 3rd party partnership that do the same kind of tracking. Here Ad-blockers should help. But only if they're updated all the time and the list of shadowy data websites is current which is something which can't be guaranteed all of the time. It also assumes that your partners, kids, family don't visit and borrow a device and accidentally disable some of your defenses, even just for an evening etc.. It happens believe me!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Google is up to no good either

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-43699233

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Google is up to no good either

        I just read the article you linked to where In a statement, Google said: "YouTube is not for children".

        Then perhaps Google can explain this.....

        https://medium.com/@jamesbridle/something-is-wrong-on-the-internet-c39c471271d2

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Zuk: 'Ugly Truth' memo - Quick, find someone to Blame!

      I have a feeling that FB is just one part of the iceberg. There's "quizzes" popping up on a lot of mainstream sites these days. Such quizzes as "Can you guess the year of these movies?". Someone is paying for them and harvesting data as I don't think they're doing out of kindness.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here is an oddity I've been investigating...

    I pulled a strange file from the internet cache of a compromised PC that had something to do with Twitter and Facebook even though the PC's owner didn't have a Twitter or Facebook account at the time.

    Victim claimed his PC troubles all began near the end of 2012.

    The cache file linked to a strange Twitter account that mentioned an online survey.

    The hyperlink to the "survey" was for "http://apps.facebook.com".

    The Twitter HTML source code also references the now infamous "Facebook Graph".

    Do an internet search for "Aweesomeee! I got $167.62 this week doing surveys." and check out all the old Twitter accounts that come up. All of the Twitter accounts were active only for a short time from the end of November to December 2012.

    Some of these appear to be possible phishing links and/or malicious.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    EMERDATA LIMITED

    I was checking out one of the member of EMERDATA LIMITED that hasn't received much press lately.

    According to: "https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/10911848/filing-history"

    16 Mar 2018 Appointment of Mr Johnson Chun Shun Ko as a director on 23 January 2018

    According to: "https://webb-site.com/dbpub/positions.asp?p=7983"

    Mr Johnson Chun Shun Ko used to be the "Independent Non-exucutive director" of: Meitu, Inc.

    Which according to Wikipedia: "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meitu"

    "Meitu Inc. is a Chinese technology company established in 2008 and headquartered in Xiamen, Fujian. It makes smartphones and selfie apps"

    "Meitu Inc. is a Chinese technology company established in 2008 and headquartered in Xiamen, Fujian.[1][2] It makes smartphones and selfie apps.[1] Meitu's photo-editing and sharing software for smartphones is hugely popular in China and other Asian countries, attracting 456 million users who post more than 6 billion photos every month.[3] As of October 31, 2016, Meitu's apps have been activated on over 1.1 billion unique devices worldwide.[4] According to App Annie, Meitu has been repeatedly ranked as one of the top eight iOS non-game app developers globally from June 2014 through October 2016, together with global Internet giants such as Alibaba, Apple, Baidu, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Tencent. MeituPic, their top app, has 52 million active daily users and 270 million MAU. On December 15, 2016, Meitu went public on the main board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The Hong Kong Exchange has not seen a technology offering of this size in nearly a decade."

    Meitu's apps list: "https://corp.meitu.com/business/software/"

  15. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Pot meet Kettle

    How does not sound like the pot calling the kettle black? Or which slime is slimier?

  16. chuckufarley

    I wonder if the "P"...

    ...In Randall P. Monroe stands for Prophet:

    https://xkcd.com/1978/

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