The Facebook data privacy crisis doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon as new developments keep popping up every other day. Recently, reports revealed that Facebook whistleblower Christopher Wylie also had access to the Cambridge Analytica data and may have used it to pitch microtargeting tools for Trump’s presidential campaign. Now, reports about a website called Profile Engine reveal that it has access to data of over 400 million Facebook profiles.
Profile Engine, which is a fairly low budget search engine, offers advanced search for Facebook profiles. The website was started in 2007 and is partly owned by the Auckland University of Technology, and allows anyone to find people on social media, by knowing a few details about them.
According to a report from Quartz Media, Profile Engine acquired rights to crawl through Facebook’s back-end back in 2008. The website exercised these rights until 2010 and was able to accumulate data of “over 400 million profiles…over 15 billion ‘friendship’ connections and 3 billion ‘likes’.” While Facebook allegedly shut off access to its backend in October 2010, the website continues to hold the data it collected within the time span.
The website claims:
“The majority of the data on Profile Engine was collected between 2007 and 2010…Images were updated when possible until around the end of 2011. You should therefore not assume that information on Profile Engine is up to date, current or correct.”
Even though the information may not be up to date, it’s worth noting that the website continues to legally hold the data, which goes against the implementation of the European “right to be forgotten”.
In its defense, the website claims that Facebook is contractually obliged to keep the data up to date, however, “Facebook have refused to keep this public data up to date and they refuse to notify us when data is deleted from Facebook or made private, therefore we cannot automatically delete data from Profile Engine when it is deleted from Facebook.”
According to New Zealand’s privacy commissioner, “Profile Engine lawfully acquired and now holds the user data of around 450 million individuals” and its methods of acquiring data do not breach personal privacy, suggesting that the battle of ownership of personal data isn’t going to end anytime soon.