Facebook plays an important role in our modern, internet-centred society. For many, it’s a professional networking tool; others use it to stay in touch with long distance friends. Most of us have come to accept that the information we post on Facebook is essentially public, or at least at risk of becoming public. We understand that Facebook keeps an extensive record of our activity and builds a personal profile around this information. However, the current case involving Cambridge Analytica has still come as a surprise, highlighting as it does not only how much information Facebook collects, but how ready it is to share this data with third parties. We may have become accustomed to the idea that our personal information is used to sell us products, but the idea that it can be manipulated to influence important world events adds a new urgency to privacy protection.
Cambridge Analytica allegedly used the quiz ‘My Digital Life’ to gain access to Facebook users’ profile information and bombard them with targeted advertising aimed at swaying the 2016 US election in favour of Donald Trump. Profile data was harvested not only for users who logged into ‘My Digital Life’, but also their friends, amounting to as many as 87 million compromised accounts. Facebook is currently under investigation for wrongdoing in both the US and the UK. Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, admitted that the incident represents ‘a breach of trust’, but he still refers to Cambridge Analytica as a ‘rogue app’, reiterating that Facebook users can adjust their settings to limit targeted advertising and stop third party access.
How to Limit Information-Sharing on Facebook
After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, some people have opted to delete their Facebook account entirely, but for others this is simply not an option. There’s already too much invested in the profile. If you want to keep using Facebook but you’re worried about privacy, follow these five steps to help secure your data.
- Limit Who Sees Your Posts – Click on the unmarked arrow to the right of your newsfeed to see a dropdown menu and choose the ‘Settings’ tab. On the ‘General Account Settings’ page, click on ‘Privacy’ on the left side of the page. For a personal profile, it’s best to choose ‘Friends Only’ as a default setting. If you’re using the account for networking purposes, you may want to make your posts public, but in this case you should be very careful about what you post. Going to ‘Activity Log’ will allow you to check and edit previous posts, or delete tags you don’t want. You can also update your general settings to make all past posts private.
- Check and Limit Third Party Apps – Click on ‘Settings’ again and then on ‘Apps and Websites’ on the left side of the page. You’ll see a list of the apps you’ve allowed to share Facebook data. You can delete apps that are no longer relevant or limit the information they can access. You can also turn off all interaction with apps, websites, and games; however, this means you will no longer be able to use saved data from Facebook to log into an app.
- Adjust Ad Settings – On the general settings page you’ll see another link on the left for ‘Ads’. This will show you a list of ‘Ad Preferences’ including ‘Your Interests’ (ads Facebook believes you’re interested in) and ‘Advertisers You’ve Interacted With’ (likely a link you didn’t even know was an ad). You can delete irrelevant categories in both these sections. You’ll still see ads on Facebook (this is after all part of the business model), but they are less likely to be spam. Farther down the page, you can also edit the information you share publicly, change your ad settings, and hide certain ad topics.
- Get a Copy of Your Data – On the General Setting page, underneath your name and contact information, you’ll find a link to ‘Download a Copy of Your Facebook Data’. This will allow you to look at or download the information Facebook has collected on you, including posts, private messages, friend lists, and the app and advertising information you looked at above.
- Avoid Quizzes and other Questionable Links – Think twice before taking a quiz or playing a game that requires a terms of service consent. More than likely, this is a ruse to convince you to let the company access your data. If you stick to verified sites and interaction with people you know in real life, you’re much less likely to find your Facebook account compromised.
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