With two billions users Facebook is a modern day technology treasure trove of private and personal information. Even though the company has been under intense scrutiny for previous privacy issues, people keep logging in, sharing, liking and posting their personal information. Now a new privacy scandal has emerged motivating a worldwide #deletefacebook campaign while motivating others to have Facebook explain how they manage and safeguard people’s private data.
It all stems back to the information attained by a researcher and psychology professor who offered money for people to take a survey but they had to install a third part app on Facebook as well. That app, was then able to collect information about users and what they liked. All told, some 270,000 US users took the test and as part of that agreement, whether they knew it or not, all of the participants’ friends were also automatically enrolled into this mass data collection without their knowledge. As a result, this big data collection debacle spread into the millions.
At this point, just using that data for academic purposes only would have been allowed and ok for Facebook standards. But, a political consulting firm that uses data to change an audience’s behavior and potentially influence election votes by the name of Cambridge Analytica bought this data from the researcher and used it to create profiles on US voters.
For now, there is no illegality here but to whistleblower Christopher Whiley, a Canadian employee at Cambridge Analytica at the time, it seemed to him to be very unethical. His concern was the fact that his company harvested the private data of at least 50 million people on Facebook without their consent and so he felt the need to let everyone know what was going on.
Facebook knew about this data leak back in 2015 and they claim they demanded that Cambridge Analytica delete the information and was told it was. Now, from all of this fallout, Facebook is saying not all the data was removed.
I’m sure it would upset so many people that they really tried to keep it quiet and there is a good chance Facebook knew about the inappropriate use of this data for years. And based on all accounts, they really did nothing to ensure that this data was destroyed properly but Facebook states that what happened was not a data breach and it has announced that it has hired a firm to perform a digital audit of Cambridge Analytica and has gone on to say that if they do find traces of this data it would be a violation of Facebook’s privacy policies.
The Canadian privacy commissioner is currently looking into whether any Canadian accounts were impacted. In total, there are about 18 million Canadian Facebook users and if you were to talk to many data activists they will probably tell you that Canadian data is probably mixed up with this as well.
Policies on how Facebook third party apps access personal data on its users have changed. Prior to 2015, if a developer made a app to be used on Facebook, that app could access personal data about the person using the app and all of their friends without asking the friends. Since 2015, a third party app can now only access the personal data of the person using it but that still does not protect the people who want to use Facebook apps.
For anyone who would like to stay with Facebook because it’s their only access to family and friends, but would like to reduce how much of their data gets collected, I’d recommend not installing or using any third party apps, removing some personal information like where you go to school, work, and minimizing the things you like.
That will only take you so far because there are tons of other ways Facebook can track your interests and habits. They can track the websites you browse across the internet if those sites also partner with Facebook and they can obtain information about you that your friends upload.
And so, as you can see it can get very difficult to stay anonymous to Facebook. For the time being, I’d it’s worth taking a few minutes to dig into account’s privacy, under app and ad settings to limit the amount of data you unknowingly offer to them.