Facebook stock is down 21% on this news story about how Cambridge Analytica was able to use Facebook data to gather information about 50 million users. As usual, there is a lot of spin related to this story and it finally got confusing enough that I looked into it. I think what pushed me over the edge was hearing that Elon Musk had deleted the Tesla and SpaceX Facebook pages.
The “shady practices” that Cambridge Analytica used to gather it’s data are nothing new. If a user logs into your application, the Facebook Graph API not only lets you collect data on that user, but on all their friends as well. It has been pretty well known by API users and marketers in general. The Verge has a good article that explains that more.
One of the reasons this is getting so much press NOW instead of many years ago is that this specific instance is related to the Trump election. How sweet is a news story where you can combine privacy, BIG DATA, and a reason why dumb people were fooled into voting for Trump? The news outlets can make a lot of money off that combination.
What should normal users do about this?
- Go to Facebook, click Settings > Apps. First, delete all the apps that you don’t use regularly. Then click Apps Others Use and uncheck everything. That will stop sharing of your data with companies because your friends logged into something with their Facebook credentials.
- Don’t use your Facebook credentials to log into a website or an app. Always create a unique login for that specific application using your email address. And if you can’t create a login with your email address, then it’s probably shady anyway. The main reason all those dumb quizzes exist on Facebook is so that they can access your profile data (and your friend’s profile data.)
- Remove personal information from your Facebook profile. e.g. Is it really that important to have your birthday on your profile?
- If you want to go further, you can remove and hide some of your old activity. This is a pain, but I’ve documented it before.
So in summary, there’s nothing new about this news story that I can see, but people are finally realizing some of what has been going on. Unfortunately this is just the tip of the iceberg. Big data is here to stay and information about you is more valuable than you realize. A lot of it is really hard to control unless you’re willing to go full-tinfoil-hat, but it’s not too hard to take a few basic steps in that direction.