Nearly 2 million Virginians potentially impacted by Facebook privacy breach

(Source: Pixabay)
(Source: Pixabay)
Updated: May. 2, 2018 at 5:30 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Virginia's attorney general says up to 20 percent of the state's residents may have been impacted by a privacy breach at Facebook.

Mark Herring said Wednesday that Facebook had told his office that 7,100 Virginians had downloaded a third-party app that potentially may have exposed the private information of 1.7 million "friends" on the social network site.

"It's a staggering number," Herring said Wednesday at a news conference. "That's about one in every five Virginians. It's a large number; it goes to show how interconnected these social networks are and how significant the problem is."

Herring sent a letter in March with several other attorneys general asking Facebook specific questions about the company's privacy and data protection policies.

Those questions include:

  • How many users in the states of the signatory attorneys general were impacted?
  • Were terms of service clear and understandable?
  • How did Facebook monitor what developers did with the data that they collected?
  • What type of controls did Facebook have over the data given to developers?
  • Did Facebook have protective safeguards in place, including audits, to ensure developers were not misusing the Facebook user’s data?
  • When did Facebook learn of this breach of privacy protections?
  • During this time frame, what other third-party “research” applications were also able to access the data of unsuspecting Facebook users?

"It's a big problem and we need to do everything possible to hold Facebook accountable and make sure they come forward with other information about what happened," Herring said.

"It's quite disheartening," said Robert Gray.

Gray does not have a Facebook account because he doesn't want the distraction, and because of the rising privacy concerns.

"Think carefully about the information you're putting out on these social media platforms," Herring said. "A lot of it is going to fall on these platforms themselves; to be more transparent with the users themselves about how their personal information is being collected."

While Virginia announced the scope of the issue Wednesday, it's unknown how other states compare.

"It's pretty high just for the state of Virginia," said Patricia Austin, of Richmond. "So if it's high for the state of Virginia, I can't even imagine what it's like for the other states."

Herring said there are still plenty of unanswered questions he plans to track down.

"We're going to hold their feet to fire on those commitments," he added.

The announcement comes the same day Cambridge Analytica declared bankruptcy and will shut down. This comes after the firm harvested user's data for the Trump campaign sparking a major debate about Facebook's privacy settings.

At the annual F8 conference Tuesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told developers he's adding new privacy tools for users and for Facebook itself.

Zuckerberg has apologized for his company's role in a data privacy scandal and foreign interference in the 2016 elections.

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