Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.
By now, nearly everyone with a Facebook account is aware of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which involved the unauthorized use account data from more than 50 million people.
The information was obtained directly from users in 2014 via an online survey posted by Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan. The survey promised a small monetary reward upon completion, but to get paid, the user had to install a Facebook app that claimed it would “download some information about you and your network.”
The survey taker’s demographic information and “likes” – along with that of their connections whose privacy settings allowed it – was then turned into psychological profiles for election-related marketing campaigns. Cambridge Analytica paid to acquire Kogan’s data and eventually sold it off to political consultants, including those of President Trump.
Facebook users were understandably upset by this violation of trust, prompting many users and even some high-profile individuals like Elon Musk and Cher to delete their Facebook pages. Facebook responded by suspending Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories, from the site, but maintains that this was not, in fact, a data breach, because the users involved “gave their consent” to Kogan’s data-harvesting app.
This incident is a good reminder to all internet users just how easy it is to unwittingly hand over your data to a third party for their own (likely unethical) purposes. If you want to keep your profile data out of the wrong hands without following the #DeleteFacebook trend, here are some precautionary steps you can take:
1. Conduct A Privacy Checkup And Update Your Settings
Facebook’s Privacy Checkup tool (accessible from the question mark icon dropdown menu at the top of your homepage) gives you the ability to quickly and easily spot any gaps in your current privacy settings.
Once you’ve completed the Privacy Checkup, take some time to go through every single security option and make sure that any posts and personal details beyond your display name and profile/cover photos (which are always public) are set to “Friends Only.” That way, you have full control over which people can see things like your birthday, hometown, workplace, education, family members, etc.
Remember, the more information your non-connections can see, the easier it is for someone to harvest your data and/or steal your identity using your social media profile.
2. Carefully Monitor Third-Party Application Access
On the screen that pops up before you access a third-party Facebook application, there’s a list of access authorizations you’re allowing that app – basic profile information, friend list, the ability to post on your behalf, etc. These games, quizzes, and photo editors may seem fun, but you’re giving up your personal data in exchange for using them.
From the Apps and Websites tab on your Facebook Settings page, look at how many third-party applications are currently accessing your account. Revoke authorization for any you don’t recognize or don’t regularly use, and before you grant access to any future apps, be sure you understand exactly what information these companies have. Facebook is very transparent about this, and when you click on an app, it tells you what info you provide to this app and what the app can do on your behalf.
3. Understand What Information Is Associated With Your Profile
Every time you post, like something, comment on, or share someone else’s content on Facebook, it becomes part of your overall account data. But your profile data isn’t just what you share yourself – although only 270,000 people downloaded Kogan’s app, their consent gave him indirect access to millions of users who were connected with them. When you allow others to tag you in posts, it provides a link to your page. For this reason, it’s best to only “friend” people whom you know and trust.