Facing up to Facebook after the Cambridge Analytica scandal

Facebook played a central role in the unfolding Cambridge Analytica scandal should have us all worried.

The scandal centered around Cambridge Analytica acquiring Facebook data on 50 million users without their knowledge, and then utilizing it for online political campaigns during the 2016 US election, has naturally attracted huge media attention.

But unfortunately, the majority of Facebook users worldwide appear to be nonplussed. This is a mistake, as anyone who cares about their privacy must carefully consider what has been uncovered.

To begin with, we must understand that Facebook’s power comes from how well it knows you. Every post you ‘like’, every page you follow and every cause you support tells Facebook who you are, what you could buy, and who you could vote for! This data is a treasure for advertisers. Last year, 98 percent of Facebook’s revenue was made through advertising.

With the money rolling in, Facebook was negligent and did not consider what happens when all the data falls in the wrong hands, and did not have the correct measures to prevent this. This is basically what the whole Cambridge Analytica scandal is about. The data company acquired the information on millions of users from an academic who devised a Facebook app that was ostensibly supposed to be merely a research tool.

It seems that Facebook realized this in 2014 and applied stricter policies on developers accessing user data. But by then the damage was done. That’s why Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, apologized and stated his company takes these matters seriously and agreed to testify before Congress about this data scandal. Lawmakers and regulators want to enact laws that ensure more transparency regarding data practices of tech companies and more accountability.

So, back to what you can do to protect your privacy. By visiting the ‘settings’ page, at the bottom of the ‘general account’ section, you can click an option to download a file of your data. Facebook then emails you a link within minutes. The information you will receive is fascinating. The data is segmented into groups, such as ads, contact info, events, messages, timeline and others. For example, under advertisers, you’ll see which companies have you on their list of target customers. You can uncheck the boxes beside the names of the advertisers who you don’t want to be targeted by.

You can also see some contact info (including phone numbers gained from the mobile app) of several contacts you added over the years. Facebook even preserves conversations and chats with people who you’ve forgotten about! In some ways, this trip down memory lane could even be painful. Beware, Facebook’s memory is impeccable.

Next, check which Facebook apps you’ve got which are granted access to your account. These could range from games, to utilities to Facebook login assistants for other services that you use. Remove whatever you can of these apps and revoke their access. After all, it was an app that gave Cambridge Analytica the data it abused.

Looking at the bigger picture, beyond the abuses by a political campaign, there is the matter of governments and others in power quietly watching each one of us, judging and manipulating us at a previously unachievable scale of mass human programmed response to achieve a new age of authoritarianism which we mistakenly believe to be an age of freedom.

Still, despite all these appalling facts, it’s hard to give up Facebook. So if you don’t want to take the radical path of deleting your account yet, perhaps you can first start with being smarter about the information that you give Facebook and other social networks, and watch how Facebook is raising the levels of privacy and protection it offers users. If you’re still not satisfied after that, then perhaps you should heed the popular hashtag #DeleteFacebok.

The wider realization is the reality that none of the Internet services you use for free are actually free, as you’re giving these companies your attention and data which they will monetize or possibly abuse. If you think about it, social media services are not actually the product – you are.