Facebook deletes Russian firms’ accounts for scraping data for facial recognition

Facebook has removed 66 accounts pages, and apps associated with companies that provide the Russian government with facial recognition software from its platform, The New York Times reports.

As it was announcing a crackdown on accounts disseminating falsehoods in the U.S., Facebook announced that accounts connected to SocialDataHub and related firm Fubutech have been removed for violating its data-scraping policies.

“Facebook has reason to believe your work for the government has included matching photos from individuals’ personal social media accounts in order to identify them,” the company said in a cease-and-desist letter seen by the Times. It asked SocialDataHub and Fubutech to disclose what information they had scraped, and delete it.

The CEO of both companies, Artur Khachuyan, said that they had complied with Facebook’s policies, and that they scrape Google search results, rather than Facebook, to obtain the data. He also said that his company obtains permission from the Russian users it rates for its business of providing profile information for insurers and banks, and that Facebook may have mistaken the actions of a pair of Russian journalism students it had trained in data-scraping for those of the company.

A Facebook spokesperson rejected the latter claim.

Khachuyan says he was surprised by Facebook’s cease-and-desist letter, as his company has operated in the same way for years. In a telephone interview with the Times, he said that he does not know what use the Russian government makes of the databases it provides, and compared his business to that of Palantir, which performs data analysis for the U.S. government.

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