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Advocates Question Facebook's Latest Effort To Protect Data


Facebook says it has suspended about 200 apps as part of an investigation into potential misuse of its users' personal data. Here's the thing, though - the company will not say which apps it suspended. NPR's Laura Sydell reports that many privacy advocates remain skeptical of the company's ability to protect users' privacy.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Facebook's been investigating thousands of apps that may have gathered what it calls large amounts of information before it tightened its privacy restrictions in 2014. It says, so far, only around 200 have raised suspicions about misuse. Sam Lester, the consumer privacy counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, says it's a good effort, but it's too late.

SAM LESTER: This is actually a classic example of closing the barn door after the horse has already left the barn.

SYDELL: Facebook's been in the spotlight over the misuse of user information that was gathered in an app and sold to Cambridge Analytica. The data analytics firm was working with the Trump campaign. The app was a personality quiz developed by a University of Cambridge professor. It soaked up data of some 87 million Facebook users because it was able to gain access to friends of people who used it. Privacy advocate Lester thinks the whole problem happened because Facebook was not complying with the Federal Trade Commission consent order from 2011.

LESTER: The whole Cambridge Analytica scandal never would've happened because Facebook would've done what it was supposed to do, which is cut off access to all these third-party apps.

SYDELL: Facebook says it asked Cambridge Analytica to delete data in 2015. But in March, Facebook learned the company had not complied. In response to the scandal, Facebook promised to investigate apps on the site. In a blog post on Monday, the company says the investigation will have two phases - first, identifying potential abusers and, second, conducting a thorough review that will include audits and on-site visits. The company will not reveal the names of the 200 apps until it can conclude there was a misuse of information. At that point, it will help Facebook users to determine if those apps used their personal data. Privacy advocates like Lester say they would prefer if Facebook was more transparent now about who it suspects of abuse.

Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and NPR.org.