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Facebook sues Ukrainian hackers who stole user info via personality quizzes

Facebook sues hackers over quiz scam
  • Facebook sued two Ukrainian nationals Friday, claiming they used personality quizzes to steal user information 
  • The quiz apps required social media users to download malicious browser extensions that scraped personal and private data from Facebook profiles 
  • The scheme affected 63,000 users from 2016 to 2018, mostly in Russia 

Facebook filed a lawsuit Friday against two Ukrainian nationals who allegedly used personality quizzes to steal user information.

The hackers, Gleb Sluchevsky and Andrey Gorbachov, required users to download browser extensions to operate the quiz apps, which scraped data from Facebook pages and posted ads once they were loaded onto the browser. The scheme affected 63,000 browsers from 2016 to 2018, targeting Russian social media users.

The apps scraped users' public info, like name, gender, age and profile picture, but also harvested private data like nonpublic lists of friends. Facebook said the hackers caused more than $75,000 in damages to the tech company.

The social network giant has been at the center of a firestorm for nearly two years after it was discovered that Cambridge Analytica obtained user data for 2016 election meddling. Facebook has been under scrutiny following a wave of data privacy violations.

"Facebook was vulnerable to very similar types of attacks, which simply means that Facebook is really good for targeting particular users with advertising, so it makes the platform so valuable," Dan Patterson, senior producer at CNET, told CBSN.

Facebook pivot to privacy

News of the lawsuit follows CEO Mark Zuckerberg's blog post last Wednesday announcing that Facebook will pivot toward privacy and unify its messaging apps across Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp.

"As I think about the future of the internet, I believe a privacy-focused communications platform will become even more important than today's open platforms," Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post last Wednesday.

The strategy could be a good business move for Facebook as it taps into the increasing consumer shift toward ephemeral social media platforms that allow for more private messaging, like Snapchat or Signal. Consumers are also increasingly gravitating to small group-chat channels, like Slack and Discord, that create smaller communities, say, for workplaces or gamers.

Is privacy profitable?

The move has some wondering how a privacy-driven social media company can be profitable, given that Facebook earns profits from advertising dollars and has the second-largest hold on the digital ad market behind Google. Patterson said the company remains valuable for advertisers because it still targets the same pool of users, but now it can do so for smaller groups.

"Sometimes, those advertisements could be more valuable," Patterson said, "because they're hyper-targeted toward specific groups of people versus a broadcast audience."