Facebook Fiasco: 3 Takeaways
Did you know that Facebook has approximately 214 million user accounts that are just here in the United States? Not bad, since the total U.S. population is hovering around 326 million. That means 2 out of 3 people reading this have a Facebook account. Facebook has been in the news a lot recently related to the Cambridge Analyitca data leak, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying before the U.S. Senate.
In 2014, a researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, was paid by the political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, to gather information on what Facebook users “Like”. Kogan created an app, with general Facebook approval, that was downloaded by 300,000 Facebook users. Those users were paid to take surveys, but not only did the app collect data on those 300,000 users, it also tracked their friends if their privacy settings allowed it. As a result, the reach of this went as high as 87 million people.
Facebook said Kogan violated its terms of service when it passed along the data to Cambridge Analytica and demanded that it be destroyed. It is unclear whether the data was deleted or not. Cambridge Analytica said it was deleted, but the New York Times investigated and suggested that Cambridge Analytica still had almost all the data. The U.S. government is concerned that foreign countries can influence our elections by using social media as a back door.
That last concern is valid. Digital advertising works and can sway our buying habits. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t have 5 million businesses spending money, consistently advertising on Facebook. It’s not a stretch to think that we can be influenced in other areas of our lives with non-stop advertisements in our face.
- Default to “On” Privacy—When I first started working in the technology field 20 years ago, new devices, right out of the box, had every option turned on. As we became concerned about security, the tech companies started making a change that engineers had to manually turn on the features that they needed.
Digital companies, like Facebook, need to do the same thing with our data. The default privacy modes in your profile are too relaxed. We users should have to go in and manually change our sharing options so only the groups we want to share data with are the only groups that get access.
- Not So Quick to Click—When is the last time you fully read a term of service that popped up on the screen? Never? Me either. The next time you are on Facebook and you click that new “free” app, pay attention to what it wants access to. I don’t personally have extra apps for Facebook and the primary reason is almost all of them want access to more information than is necessary, including your friends list. Pay attention to what those apps want access to before accepting.
- Pot Calling the Kettle Black—Exactly 1 year ago, I wrote how the government gave internet service providers the ability to track and sell our internet browsing data, yet members of Congress grilled the Facebook CEO for essentially the same thing. We need consistency in our legislation that protects our privacy and data online. I believe challenges will continue to arise since some of our elected officials in the highest roles of government are not keeping up to speed with evolving technology, but are tasked with oversight.
The long-term ramifications for Facebook are still unknown. There was a campaign called #DeleteFacebook in the immediate aftermath, but make no mistake, this won’t end with Facebook. I expect investigations to spread to other tech companies whose primary services are “free” to you, the consumer, but use your data for hyper-specific advertisements aimed right at you.
Remember free isn’t free.