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[News in focus] 86,000 Facebook users hit by data theft

Apr 10,2018
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Korea was not an exception. Facebook said some 86,000 users based in Korea may have also had their private information harvested by the political consultancy linked to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Unlike in some countries including the United States, where the largest number of users were affected by the personal data breach, there has yet to be any collective action in protest here or an exodus from the social network.

Facebook Korea said in a press release Friday that 184 users based in Korea are estimated to have downloaded a personality quiz “This is Your Digital Life,” created in 2014 by academic researcher Aleksandr Kogan, from whom Cambridge Analytica, the data firm, said it had bought personal information.

The information was about people who installed the app and also their friends.

The estimate is based on the “users’ location at the point of installation and when their friends are taken into account, the number of victims may amount to 85,893,” the release said.

“Profile information users have chosen to make public could have been shared [with Cambridge Analytica] but may vary according to users’ privacy settings,” said a Facebook spokesman.

The announcement was part of Facebook’s confession last week that the data of up to 87 million people around the world was believed to have been improperly shared with the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica - a lot more than the 50 million previously disclosed by the whistle-blower Christopher Wylie in March.

Facebook Korea said potential victims, starting today, will be getting a detailed message in their news feed.

The data privacy scandal has been prompting an exodus of users worldwide - high-profile tech celebrities such as Tesla’s Elon Musk, for instance - with a “deletefacebook” hashtag. There is no data on how many users have actually abandoned the service.

In Korea, where there were 18 million monthly active users for Facebook as of March 2017 - the latest available data from Facebook Korea - reaction has been relatively tepid.

“I don’t share my personal information on Facebook after so many personal information leakage accidents here and there,” said Jung Sun-young, a 28-year-old office worker. “It’s been a while since I shared my photos. I use Facebook mostly for the News Feed, anyway.”

Another user, Yang Seok, a 39-year-old start-up entrepreneur, said, “I want to leave but I am locked in because of my personal network within Facebook. I already think of my information as public.”

Despite high security requirements when it comes to cyber space, Korea, one of the world’s most wired countries, has had numerous private information leakages and people have become accustomed to such events.

In 2010, personal data - resident registration numbers, home and workplace addresses and phone numbers - of 35 million users of the then-popular Cyworld social network and its affiliated Nate portal was hacked and personal information of 104 million overlapping users of three credit card companies was exposed in 2014. Other small and big data breaches have occurred since.

“Having gone through so many incidents, Koreans have become relatively less sensitive about the meaning and value of their personal information,” said Sung Dong-kyu, a professor of communications at Chung-Ang University. “Some even seem to think they are exceptions when it comes to this issue. But the mood can change if the scandal unfolds further in Korea. It’s not a matter that can be easily overlooked.”

The Korea Communications Commission on March 30 started an investigation into whether Facebook’s personal information-handling violated any law here. Some other operators of social networks in Korea - portals Kakao and Naver - have also become targets of the probe.

On March 20, the telecom watchdog slapped a fine of 396 million won ($369,666) on Facebook for violating the country’s Telecommunication Business Act by intentionally slowing access to Facebook and Instagram for SK Broadband and LG U+ customers while it negotiated network usage fees with the two carriers.


BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]