Right now, Facebook is literally the cheerleader who cheated on her quarterback boyfriend at the pep rally. From internet darling to data slut, the fall from grace has been quicker than you can say Cambridge Analytica. (Though some would argue, we’ve been losing our patience with Zuckerberg’s kingdom for some time, but like the dependant little addicts that we are, none of us have actually done anything about it…)
I’m sure you’ve seen the news, heard the panicked cries of DELETE FACEBOOK! but do you actually know what the heck is actually going on?
Alright, sit tight sports fans. We’re going in. Here’s what you need to know, in like, four (kinda long, sorta rambly) paragraphs or so.
Facebook wasn’t hacked.
If I had a dollar for every time I saw the word ‘hack!’ in association with this scandal, I’d be a very rich woman indeed, and probs dictating this to someone else to write as I sat by the pool in St Tropez, eating chilled grapes and drinking Dom Perignon.
Let’s be super clear. Facebook wasn’t hacked. A research firm, Cambridge Analytica simply took advantage of a loop hole in the Facebook API that allows access to data for academic purposes (which you agreed to when you ticked that ‘I Accept’ button without even reading the lengthy terms and conditions, because you were so desperate to build your profile and connect with your brand new Contiki tour friends…).
Under the purposes of ‘research’, Cambridge set up a quiz – again requiring users to give their consent to the collection of data (though it did expressly say it was being used for academic purposes #dodgy) – and it harvested the collected data of these users and their friends. While only 270k folks actually participated and gave consent in the quiz, thanks to that nifty little ol’ API loophole, the raw data of about 50 million user profiles were collected.
Up until here – all good and legal and above board and no-one’s getting sued. The murky water comes next. Cambridge sold this data – to political campaigns to help influence behaviour – which is expressly against Facebook’s terms. There’s about 17,832,472 stories of what then happened to this data – Cambridge are blaming the professor at the centre of this scandal, Dr Kogan, claiming they had no idea he was bending the rules and that they immediately deleted all user data once it was revealed (I wish I could see the faux ‘I’m shocked and APPALLED’ face their PR monkey was giving to the media when he delivered that statement). The New York times reckon they’ve physically sighted a copy of this raw data. I’m not convinced that anything digital can ever truly be ‘for good, forever, no copies on a random USB anywhere’ properly deleted. Oh, and everyone has apparently signed non-disclosure agreements, so there’s that too…
If anything, this is an anthropological study into Humans of 2000’s and how we don’t read a damn thing that we sign or agree to.
Trump is connected to this hot mess.
There’s a reason you keep hearing the name ‘Trump’ in all the news pieces – it was his 2016 political campaign that hired Cambridge Analytica to identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. In fact, Cambridge Analytica is largely funded by ex-Trump aide Steve Bannon and a particularly wealthy Republican donor Robert Mercer. Not. Even. Surprised. A. Little. Bit.
All the ‘exposés’ running in every major news outlet on how Facebook is harvesting your data and influencing your decision making isn’t new.
I’m baffled at the people who are breathlessly declaring that Facebook can track you ANYWHERE on the web and they use that to target down to a single person and did you know that they can see what you’re doing?!?! #OldNews
This is the very fundamental core of Facebook’s advertiser offerings. And it’s been around longer than you think. In fact, nearly seven years ago, I got a social media job by targeting the employees of a specific business with Facebook ads, convincing them to hire me.
Let’s get real for a moment. The fact that suddenly Facebook is showing you ads for a dress you were perusing last week on The Iconic isn’t a coincidence. It’s called retargeting, it’s pretty old, everyone in digital marketing does it to some degree, and the only reason we can do it, is because Facebook is collecting data literally every-damn-where you go. Online and to some degree, offline thanks to the GPS on your phone. If you don’t log out of Facey (and let’s be real, who even knows their passwords these days?) Facebook can track you right across your mobile (thanks to the app), and on any site with a Facebook plugin of any description (so, like 99.9999994% of the internet). And thanks to cookies, logging out isn’t necessarily a fool proof safe zone. We agreed to all of this when we signed up. Uh, 2007 Em. Would it have killed you to read a damn thing??
Facebook aren’t really doing much to protect you, soz.
Here’s the thing, social cats. Nothing is free in this world. If you’re not paying for something you’re using, then you are what’s for sale.
To be fair, Zuckerberg has gotten up and made a few uninspiring speeches about how they’re committed to their users blah blah blah and they’ve suspended the accounts of all involved, but meh. It’s basically a bit of a PR glitter show to try and salvage the rep of their cash cow. Collecting user data has made a lot of folk a lot of coin, and it’s essential if Facey is gonna win the data war against Google. (Don’t even get me started about what data Googs has on us…)
I’m sure we’ll see a prompt response to the research allowance, it’ll be removed as a data collection offering, but it’s literally the teeny, tiny, insignificant tip of the iceberg. For most of us, Zuck has 10 years worth of data on everything we’ve done, interacted with, searched and thought about, and TBH it’s probably easier to remove all the salt from the world’s oceans than it is to unravel Facebook’s tentacles from the world wide web.
So what should you do?! Panic! Run for the hills! Build a tin foil hat!
Right now, not much. Let’s be real – the damage is already done – you’ve given your data, you’ve consented to it being harvested and short of never using the internet again, there’s no 100% reliable way to prevent your data being collected, sold and used against you.
But, there are a few cheeky little hacks (yes, yes, I know I just outlawed the word ‘hack’ in association to this scandal, but it’s my blog and I can do what I want, y’hear?) that will significantly cut down the data that you’re sharing, and keep you as low profile as it gets.
- Lock down your Facebook profile. Adjust your settings and privacy options and make that bad boy tighter than Fort Knox. The Thrillist has a great piece on what you should look out for.
- Go old school – or at least, like, 2010 old-school and stop using social login. How easy is it to use your Facebook login for shopping sites and other apps! No more remembering multiple passwords, hazzah! The only downside? You’re giving even more data to Mark. Stick to a email and password combo, and get a password saving app – because let’s face it, you’re gonna forget both of those things 7.2 seconds after signing up.
- Install ad and tracker blockers. It wont stop everything, but it will significantly cut down what you’re sharing when you’re surfing. I use Disconnect and uBlock Origin.
- Clear your browsing data and cookies occasionally. It’s a pain to have to re-enter saved passwords, but worth the trouble. Also use incognito mode on your browser.
Or you can delete Facebook. Let me know how long you last, eh?
Image via Unsplash.com