Cambridge Analytica reportedly mined information from 50 million Facebook users for the benefit of the Trump and Brexit campaigns. And bragged about it.
They got the data from Facebook before 2014. Facebook didn’t sell it to them. Facebook just GAVE it to them. Up until that time Facebook allowed Facebook applications to not only get profile data from the user who ran an application but allowed them to get profile data from the friends of that user. The terms of service ALWAYS said that you were sharing your friends’ profile data. Most people just didn’t read them.
This stretch to friends’ profiles was removed in 2014.
Cambridge Analytica used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to engage about 270,000 users to run an application (e.g., a game or survey) on Facebook that gave Cambridge Analytica access to 50 million other users’ profile data who were “friends” of that group.
You can split hairs about who violated whose terms of service but the result is that millions of Facebook users’ personal data was shared and used for data mining.
Mark Zuckerberg had an interview on the BBC in 2009. Here’s an excerpt of it:
BBC: So who is going to own the Facebook content, the person who puts it there or you?
Zuckerberg: The person who’s putting the content on Facebook always own the information.
BBC: Are you going to sell it?
Zuckerberg: No, of course not.
Watch it below.
As noted above Facebook didn’t SELL the information. They just GAVE it away.
And it’s not just profile data that Facebook was gathering and retaining. TechCrunch (a Verizon property) had an article recently that described Facebook’s tracking Android users’ SMS and phone call metadata as “concealment.”
So what can you do?
A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook:
Hey everyone…I am deleting my FB account and messenger on . My Instagram account is . You can find me there. If you want my email addy or telephone number, please just reach out.
Here’s my reply:
Google (and your ISP) has similar data but it’s not apparent YET that Google gives/sells it like Facebook. There’s no telling what the ISPs are doing with it.
Like you, I signed up for Google Plus at the beginning and go there once a week or so. Honestly there’s no one on it.
No good answer other than to recognize that all these big companies have access to broad data about you and with “big data” tools they can analyze it and monetize it.
The good news is that unless you are a “target” (e.g. CFO at a Fortune 1000 company) nobody much cares what web sites you go to or where you live.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJD) has had a couple of good articles on Facebook privacy.
Another article described how to download your Facebook data and what to look for.
You can request a folder of the things you have uploaded to or shared on Facebook from all your sessions on various devices – plus other curious information – to save on your computer. Here are instructions. Once you unzip the folder, open the “index.htm” file in a browser, and start looking around.
What isn’t in this single download is a lot of the behind-the-scenes data that Facebook may use to increase engagement and target ads. For instance, it doesn’t list people who might have uploaded your phone number or other information when syncing their contacts with Facebook. It doesn’t say what ads third-party data providers have targeted at you, or which bit of your grocery shopping or web browsing prompted such ads. (No, Facebook isn’t listening through your microphone – it doesn’t need to.)
Here‘s the list of the behind-the-scenes data that Facebook keeps on you.
And if you’re worried about Facebook you may be worrying about the wrong thing. Go read this article on your ISP.
So what do you do?
You have zero privacy anyway, Get over it.
The reality is that individually you’re not much of a target. Unhook as much of Facebook as you can. And always read the terms of service carefully.