While the consequences of the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook scandal may seem to be a bit out of reach for most, the results have just hit very close to home. On Wednesday, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said that 7,100 Facebook users in the Commonwealth along with 1.7 million of their Facebook friends may have had their personal information exposed.
There has been immense collateral damage as the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that over 99.5 percent of users did nothing to expose their personal information on the social network. User information gathered by Facebook through its applications was subject to a data breach that involved a third party utilizing it for political ad campaigns.
Herring is just one of 37 state attorneys general who have probed the high-profile security breach affecting at least 87 million people and 71 million Americans.
“While we continue to await a fuller explanation about this incident from Facebook and its leadership, an important first step is getting our arms around the scale of the exposure,” said Herring.
According to information from Facebook, the number of “total impacted users” in Virginia is 1,709,835. The source of the alleged breach was a Facebook quiz app, called “ThisIsYourDigitalLife.”
The third-party research app collected information not only on Facebook users who approved it, but also collected the user information of their social media friends, even if they did not use the app.
“The fact that 1 in 5 Virginians may have had their personal information shared without permission is extremely troubling,” Herring said in a statement. “I’d encourage all Virginians to take this opportunity to review their privacy settings and make sure they understand just what they may be sharing with Facebook and other social media platforms.”
In April, Herring and other attorneys general sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking questions that included:
“How many users in each state may have been affected?
Were the terms of service clear and understandable?
What controls did Facebook have over data given to developers?
What safeguards did the company have in place?
When did it learn of the breach?”
The revelation follows the closing of all U.S.-based Cambridge Analytica offices on Wednesday and the shutting down of its parent company SCL Group after a conference call with its employees and CEO Julian Wheatland.
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said on Wednesday, “I don’t think there are any tears being shed over the death of Cambridge Analytica, but what they did is being duplicated by others.”
His concern is one of the public’s biggest worries as other copycat companies within the tech industry may have further exploited online communications in effort to gather personal, what was thought to be private, information.