Face to Face with Facebook’s Privacy Concerns
For the standard journalist, it’s important to be on top of trending topics. In today’s day and age, being relevant and sensationalist is more likely to get the click you need to be successful. But as a blogger, I only write one article a week, and boy, has a lot been happening in the tech world this month.
Some highlights include:
Bitcoin dropping, which I covered last week.
One of Uber’s self-driving cars hit and killed a pedestrian, which, wow, I am eager to write about, because there are some interesting implications and extrapolations to be pulled out of that.
China’s Space Station, Tiangong-1, is due to make its final, uncontrolled descent back to Earth this weekend. While astronomers aren’t sure where it’s going to land, safe money currently says it’s going to land in the ocean. So it’s probably safe to go outside.
Oh gosh, Facebook. Holy cow, Facebook.
I’m not going to lie; I held off on writing about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica because I wanted to see what would be uncovered. At this point, headlines featuring Mark Zuckerburg, Facebook, and Cambridge Analytica are still all over the news, but not a lot of new things are being said. Mostly, people seem to be interested in pointing fingers, learning what Mark Zuckerburg is going to do about the data leak, and how they can protect themselves from having it happen again.
Now, I don’t know exactly what happened, or what’s going on with Zuckerburg, but I do know a few things you can do to protect your data. Before I get into that, however, let’s take a quick peek at a few highlights from this scandal because wow. There’s a lot going on here.
Starting at the beginning, March 17th, the New York Times released a report regarding Cambridge Analytica, a voter-profiling company in London. The company had obtained private information for over 50 million Facebook accounts which it used to target users with digital ads.
Now, lots of online companies collect user data for targeted ads, like Google, Amazon, and Yahoo. So what makes this a big deal?
Click through to see this infographic from Baynote.com that shows just what kind of data websites collect on you all the time.
Well, aside from the whole political marketing and manipulation thing, it turns out the biggest concern seems to be one of consent. People aren’t happy with their data being shared around wily-nily without their knowledge. Weird, I know.
The #Deletefacebook campaign started up shortly aferwards, and was endorsed by Brian Acton, the cofounder of Whatsapp. Among the companies deleting their Facebook pages is the proud purveyor of adult delights, Playboy, deleted their Facebook page, citing that Facebook was both “sexually repressive” and “contradicts Playboy’s values.”
There have been murmurings that Facebook should be regulated, but no one is really sure who should be doing the regulation. Up to this point, users have been in charge of more or less policing content, but unfortunately, it’s starting to look like that’s not good enough.
Zuckerberg doesn’t want the job, and I don’t blame him. Right now, Facebook’s model basically follows the principle of pleasing as many people as possible as often as possible. If he takes the reigns and starts imposing the much needed regulations, he’s going to paint a HUGE target on his head.
And aside from the potential backlash, that’s going to be a lot of power in one man’s hands. A big part of the Cambridge Analytica scandal is the fact that social media was used to influence the 2016 presidential election. Just imagine what Zuckerberg could do if he was the sole person responsible for deciding what kind of content and news Facebook users were able to access?
(I am choosing to believe that he would ultimately be a force for good, personally, but how one interprets “for good” is entirely subjective.)
I’m not sure I want Congress to be the ones responsible for regulating Facebook either, but it’s not like I have any better ideas.
Which more or less brings us up to today. Yesterday, it was announced that Facebook is going to hold off on the announcement of the smart speaker it was developing, which seems reasonable, given all the security concerns going around. They probably wouldn’t be able to compete with Alexa, anyway.
It’s hard to say how long it will take Facebook to untangle the mess it’s got itself in, but in the meantime, it has been rolling out changes to its privacy settings in order to get somewhat ahead of the mess, including making such settings easier to find. So, just what switches do you need to flip to keep your data safe?
How To Protect Your Data
The easiest way to protect your private data from being stolen is to just not use Facebook, a feat that is easier said than done. I really only use Facebook to manage the company Facebook page, and I still pop over now and then when my other social media feeds run dry. Not to mention how many people use it as a way to announce and coordinate parties. I would end up as an asocial hermit if I didn’t check into Facebook at least once a week.
What’s worse is that even if you delete your account, Facebook can still track you through unrelated mobile apps. You see, Facebook employs a product called Facebook Audience Network, which is an ad service sold to app developers, which allows Facebook to collect, store, and analyze data about their partner’s users, even if those users aren’t connected to a Facebook account. According to AdGaurd, Facebook Audience Network is the most popular third-party service used in popular mobile apps aside from Google. And unless you have the tools to track and monitor where apps are sending the data they collect, there’s not really a good way to know which app ads are being served through Facebook.
This infographic from adgaurd.com shows how many mobile apps are collecting data, and where that data is where it’s being sent.
The solution to this dilemma is, of course, to install an adblocker. Yes, almost every website on the internet hates it when you do that, but well. Until they learn to be more responsible with their ads, users have to take measures to protect themselves. The great news is that if you have Firefox, Mozilla is already working on a plug-in to protect your data from Facebook.
But say you want to keep using Facebook due to all those previously mentioned social reasons (I mean really, who’s going to coordinate a party through Twitter? There just isn’t an alternative that is as widely adopted and easy to use as Facebook). The first step to is to be a bit more aware of what apps you are letting have access to your Facebook data. Games like Farmville and Candy Crush are just as guilty of scraping your data as those fun little surveys and quizzes. Remember, Cambridge Analytica got their initial user base through a quiz app called thisisyourdigitallife.
Secondly, you can download and delete your data from Facebook… but it’ll take about 90 days to process. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, because you definitely should, but be warned that it’s not going to have an immediate effect.
Finally, change your security/privacy settings. As mentioned above, Facebook is taking measures to make this easier, so this shouldn’t be too much of a hassle, but it’s still not necessarily going to be fun. There’s a lot to go through, in a couple different sections, but taking time to be thorough is important to prevent future breeches, or at least give yourself some peace of mind.