Questions are being raised about Facebook's decision to give a Russian internet company temporary special access to its user data (FB)

Mark Zuckerberg and Yuri Milner

  • Facebook acknowledged that it gave Mail.Ru special access to user data after 2015, when it officially ended the system that allowed third-party apps to access user data.
  • Mail.Ru was among dozens of companies that were granted special temporary access to Facebook user data.
  • Mail.Ru has ties to the Kremlin, according to news reports.

Facebook is facing fresh scrutiny over its data-sharing practices following the publication of reports highlighting how a Russian internet giant with ties to the Russian government gained access to user data. 

On Tuesday, CNN and Wired published reports exploring how Mail.Ru built apps that were able to access Facebook user data after the social network locked down its platform in 2015. Facebook recently disclosed in written testimony to US Congress that Mail.Ru had built apps that integrated with its platform — and that it was one of a select group of app makers that was given an extension beyond the formal 2015 cut-off date.

According to CNN and Wired, Mail.Ru was granted an extra two weeks of access to this user data. Facebook did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

Mail.Ru’s parent company was founded by Alisher Usmanov, a Russian businessman with links to the Kremlin. As such, Mail.Ru’s activity on the platform has raised some eyebrows, and prompted calls for more information: The Russian government infamously used Facebook to sow disinformation and propaganda during the 2016 US presidential election.

What’s more, a former Mail.Ru CEO and Chairman, Yuri Milner, invested $200 million for a 2% stake Facebook in 2009 through his firm Digital Sky Technologies, and another few hundred million dollars in the following years. Milner, who stepped down as Mail.Ru Chairman in 2012, has since sold its stake in Facebook, CNN reported.

In a statement given to CNN, Democratic senator Mark Warner called for more information: “In the last 6 months we’ve learned that Facebook had few controls in place to control the collection and use of user data by third parties.

“Now we learn that the largest technology company in Russia, whose executives boast close ties to Vladimir Putin, had potentially hundreds of apps integrated with Facebook, collecting user data. If this is accurate, we need to determine what user information was shared with and what may have been done with the captured data.”

BI PRIME: A third of Facebook’s ad revenue growth now comes from Instagram — and it couldn’t come at a better time

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Senate Expected to Confirm Trump DOJ Nominee Who Represented Russian Bank in 2017 – Roll Call

As the frenzy surrounding President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh kicks into high gear this week, the Senate is expected to vote Wednesday to confirm a divisive new director for the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.

In late winter 2017, the nominee, Brian Benczkowski, briefly represented Alfa Bank, a Russian bank with close ties to Russian government officials that media outlets previously reported was a subject of the FBI’s probe of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

No one at Alfa has been charged with wrongdoing, and it is unclear if the bank is still part of any probe.

Leading Democrats in the chamber wrote a letter to the president last week arguing Benczkowski cannot “credibly oversee” the DOJ Criminal Division’s involvement in Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation and the criminal investigation of Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer.

“Unanswered questions remain about Alfa Bank that should be resolved before the Senate even considers voting to confirm this bank’s lawyer to a top Justice Department position,” the Democratic senators wrote.

But Senate Republicans, who hold a one-vote majority in the chamber, stuck together Tuesday in support of Benczkowski by voting to end debate on his nomination and proceeding to a floor vote to confirm him.

They gained a two-vote cushion after Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who is up for re-election in Trump-friendly West Virginia this November, defected to the GOP side on the motion to end debate — the only member of either party to break ranks.

Manchin’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

The final vote broke down in favor of moving forward with Benczkowski’s nomination, 51-48. GOP Sen. John McCain, who is home in Arizona, did not vote.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the second-in-command at the DOJ, has repeatedly urged the Senate to stop delaying Benczkowski’s confirmation, saying the 48-year-old lawyer is a “highly qualified” candidate for the job.

“The President nominated a highly qualified lawyer named Brian Benczkowski to serve in that position almost one year ago,” Rosenstein said in a speech to lawyers in New York in May. “But Brian is still awaiting a confirmation vote.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is expected to schedule Benczkowski’s confirmation vote for Wednesday, nearly a year and one month after Trump first nominated him.

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