Facebook’s use of user data has been plastered across headlines for the last several weeks.

A story about a company called Cambridge Analytica precipitated what became a massive snowball. In early stories, Cambridge Analytica (a data firm used by some candidates in both domestic and international elections), was accused of hacking the 2016 election by stealing user data.

Of course, that’s not true. Cambridge Analytica was privy to the data of some 50 million Facebook users because those users gave them express consent through a third-party app. The information they mined was only a fraction of the data available to Facebook.

Chris Kavanagh has a fantastic read on the details of the Cambridge Analytica scandal that I highly recommend if you’re looking for an in-depth, but reader-friendly explanation of the story.

As the Cambridge Analytica stories gained traction and were thoroughly questioned, it became apparent that the culprit here wasn’t a data firm, but the platform itself.

The extent of Facebook data mining is troublesome given the reach their reach, as is their obvious preference for progressive content. Facebook also made it incredibly difficult to navigate their privacy settings. Unless you’re a savvy user or have a “how to” guide, figuring out how to opt out of sharing your information is the furthest from intuative.

These are issues that should and will receive attention (finally!) moving forward and may result in a complete revamping of the social media and digital ad world. Exciting times, these are.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve always assumed that everything I put on the internet has the potential to become publicly available, none of the Facebook privacy kerfluffle was revelatory.

I’ve been surprised that so many are surprised to learn information they’ve shared can be easily accessed or used by the platform. So I thought I’d share a little bit about how these platforms work so you can decide how you wish to proceed according to your preferred level of privacy.

If you are not paying, you are not the customer

Facebook generates revenue by selling ad space, ad space that can target user’s likes and even predict their wants, all with alarming accuracy. Selling effective ads requires copious amounts of user data to provide results to their customers (publishers, not you). Whether that’s selling more widgets or garnering more clicks, Facebook ads have become an incredibly precise way of reaching otherwise unreachable people.

So you want to delete your Facebook account…

I’ve seen many people talk about deleting their Facebook accounts in order to switch to other less invasive platforms. And that’s great. Competition in the marketplace is always healthy. But if the platform you’re using is free, is not showing ads, and is not tracking your usage, then you should be questioning how they generate revenue because it’s gotta come from someone.

And deleting your Facebook account won’t fix the internet’s many privacy pitfalls

For this one, I’ll turn to Mashable:

But there is no way to undo the damage that’s been done. Scores of developers could still be hoarding our old Facebook data and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Moreover, it’s not just Facebook you should be worried about.

Almost everything you touch in your digital life is tracking you in more ways than you know. Search engines, advertisers, e-commerce platforms, and even your wireless carrier and internet service provider (ISP) have an uncomfortable amount of information about who you are, where you go, and what you like.

They may not be turning around and selling that data to political operatives, but they are engaging in their own kind of profiling.

“Any of the common big platforms that we use on an everyday basis is collecting various kinds of data about us that is being used to develop personalized profiles about us,” says Luke Stark, a postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth College and privacy researcher.

Even streaming services like Netflix get a read on you based on the types of programming you watch. Algorithms. They’re everywhere.

Messaging functions are not lockboxes

“Private message” capabilities on any platform are not lockboxes that function in internet oblivion. They’re monitored and logged by the staffers of the employee. Facebook monitors chat for criminal activity. Message accordingly.

The golden rule of the internet is…

The internet is forever. If you don’t want anyone to know, don’t put it on the internet. Period.

And if you don’t want anyone knowing any of your personal data that they can’t look up in the White Pages, then it’s probably best to avoid social media, Google, smartphones, and any other bit of technology that asks for your information.

There are plenty of handy guides on how to protect your information and lock down your accounts so that others can’t access your information, but in the age of cyber warfare, data mining, and massive private data breaches (Equifax anyone?), it’s best to remember the golden rule of the internet.

Go forth, and internet accordingly.


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