I’ve been holding off on posting about the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica mess. Clearly it’s a mess and both firms are struggling to explain themselves. Should users be surprised? Absolutely, positively not. This was bound to happen. If not with these two, with other companies. The amount of users, data and activity on social media platforms is massive and it was only a matter of time for it to be misused like this. Was Facebook complicit? It doesn’t sound that way, but as we learn more, it’s certainly possible. Was Cambridge Analytica in the wrong? That looks far more likely, but it’s still early and this is a very charged topic, so theories are rampant and varied. Here’s what is known at this moment.
Facebook has allowed outside developers to create apps, games and quizes on it’s site. These all use your personal Facebook data to identify who you are and some, pass a lot of your profile data back to the developer. Have you ever answered a quiz asking you to name all the States in the US you have visited? To rank your favorite movies or used the “Login with Facebook” button to log in to another site or app, so you didn’t have to take the time to setup a new account? If you have, you’ve exposed your Facebook profile, the entire thing, to some of these apps, developers and sites. That’s why I have previously posted a caution”Those Fun Facebook Lists Could Pose Risk.”
This is how Cambridge Analytica hosted Facebook user data. A personality test was developed on the Facebook platform and 270,000 users granted permission to this app to view and gather data from their profiles. From that, data was also grabbed from 50 million users who were friends of the 270,000 who took the profile. This is because when those original 270,000 users allowed the personality test to access their profile data, they also allowed it to access their friends. This is the root of the problem. It spread like wildfire, jumping from profile to profile, gathering data that we now believe was used to influence the 2016 Presidential Election.
It has taken Facebook several days to more fully respond to this. Rightly or wrongly, they took time to understand the nature and scope of the issue before making official comments, which came over the last 24 hours. Facebook acknowledges they failed to protect their users privacy. As early as 2014, Facebook implemented controls to prevent something like this from happened, but this event predated those enhancements. Facebook has promised to audit all entities that had access to data before these new controls were in place. Any entity that does not comply with the audit will be banned from Facebook. That’s a good start to make things right and restore users confidence in their privacy.
Love it or hate it, Facebook does serve positive purposes. While there is no doubt there is a lot of negativity on Facebook in many forms, the vast majority of users use it for good, whether keeping in touch with friends and family far and wide, or sharing useful information like this blog post. The good outweighs the bad and Facebook will be better moving forward. Many challenges lie ahead, not the least of which is an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and a class-action lawsuit alleging that Facebook did not adequately protect user data.
If you want to stay on Facebook, here are some things you should do to better safeguard your Facebook profile.
- Check how many apps have access to your Facebook data.
- Click the drop down arrow next to the help question mark and go to Settings.
- Click on Apps in the left hand column. Be sure you click Show All. I bet you’ll be surprised to see how many apps have access to your profile.
- Hover over each app and click the x to remove it or the pencil to edit permissions. If an app says Only me, you’re in pretty good shape. If an app says Friends, it can grab their data through you. That’s not good.
- If you don’t want any apps to have access to your profile at all, scroll down a bit and click the Edit button under Apps, Websites and Plugins and click the Disable Platform button. Before you do, be sure you read what this will change, as your online experience will change, not just on Facebook.
- Scroll a bit further and click the Edit button under Apps Others Use and here you can really restrict what apps can see about you.
These few simple steps will secure your data and allow you to continue to use Facebook with less risk of others getting more information on you and your friends than you intend.