50 million people.
Wrap your head around that number. 50 million Facebook users’ personal profiles were harvested by a related app, then shared with Cambridge Analytica. Not to market hamburgers or makeup, but to allegedly influence our presidential election, along with the Brexit vote. While the plot thickens (which it will continue to do for a while), social media users are jumping ship en masse, throwing themselves overboard as if they were on fire.
There are many moving parts, unanswered questions and finger-pointing. I’m going to let the legal dust settle before I lay into any one particular entity. This is a technology website, and I am a technology pro. My responsibility is to my readers and listeners. My mission has always been to give you all you need to know about operating tech safely.
So let’s talk about your personal data. Everything about you and everything that can be inferred about you based on your Facebook activity is being used to effectively influence your actions. Again, there are 50 million of you. That’s not just advertising anymore; that’s global world power status. That’s manipulation.
You gave it to them
Did you agree to it? Yes and no. You agreed to make your profile public, private, or super-private. That part was easy. But what about the 8,000-word agreement you signed with Facebook? Did you read it? Have a lawyer look it over? What about the updated privacy policies? Or the apps and programs that you allowed Facebook to interface with?
But let’s be honest. Are you really THAT surprised that your information is being used to sway your vote? To manipulate your tastes? Do you think it’s a coincidence that when you rant about politics on Facebook, suddenly you’re getting links to pages that support your point of view?
Can we take back control?
Now listen, I know that some of you are hurt. But here’s the deal: when you post on Facebook, the algorithms from that post (more or less) belong to Facebook. And they can pretty much do with it what they want. Maybe you didn’t think about that when you first signed up. But now it’s time to face the music.
The question is, to what extent can companies and people USE our picture? Can we get our privacy back and rescue all our photos? Can we take back control of our profiles? What can we do to protect ourselves?
Last week I called an Internet Security lawyer and a Risk Management expert to get the answers. You can hear the whole interview in-depth on my podcast. I’ll give you the bottom line. If you were to adjust your privacy settings to maximum or even close your Facebook account, people can still access your former pictures and posts through other means. Connected apps, social media platforms and search engines still contain all those photos, and more importantly, the TEXT that accompanies those photos.
What you say is used against you
As of now, it’s your text that reveals all. It’s your text that is most harvestable. Any word or phrase can and WILL be used to gather and store more information about you. So you might think about being less word-specific. But hold onto your hats, folks. Facebook is improving their “facial recognition” capabilities and asking users to apply that option. Trust me, it won’t stop with the face. Soon it will be brand recognition, location recognition and quite possibly style recognition.
The clincher is, you agreed to all this publicity when you checked, “I Agree.”
The dark side to all this is that they can now use all 50 million profiles to influence political power. Politicians are now sold like products if you haven’t noticed. That’s because most people don’t bother researching their next presidential choice; they’re happy to believe whatever the media tells them.
Time for a social media divorce?
So, want a social media divorce? You can quit Facebook and deactivate your account permanently, but be prepared to wait up to 90 days. Just remember, your photos will still be mineable via a simple search. Your memes are still documented as being an expression of who you are. Your personal data is still stored somewhere, and your general data such as gender will always be known.
Now we get to hear Facebook and Cambridge Analytica and all their associates duke it out. Both sides claim innocence. Both sides want reform, laws and protection because obviously integrity and honesty aren’t really part of the equation in the unchartered seas of social media.
Once upon a time, we thought Facebook was good, clean fun. It’s not. It never was. Internet culture writer Aja Romano put it very well when she said:
“Facebook has far outstripped the moniker of 'social media.' If we think about the internet as a global system, then Facebook is a global world power. With such global power comes monumental social responsibility, requiring major global leadership and oversight, as well as increased self-scrutiny and accountability from Facebook itself. It does not, however, require you to quit Facebook.”
I think the keyword here is “responsibility.” So is this whole “privacy rights” mess our fault? Or are platforms like Cambridge Analytica and Facebook to blame? America is still Land of the Free, last I checked. And with freedom comes responsibility. No matter how you shake it, social media as we know it today still holds most of the cards. But again, ultimately, that depends on you.
Click here to listen now to my Komando on Demand free podcast. I have the inside scoop from an Internet Security Lawyer and a risk management pro about how Cambridge Analytica & Facebook manipulated us, and we helped! Is it too late to protect yourself? Can you get your privacy back? What are your rights? Listen now!
Facebook thinks it knows how you lean politically
Facebook has also tried to peg people, politically, and it believes it has you figured out. Click here to find out what political party they think you support.