Facebook is under criticism yet again for their disregard of user data and privacy, and this time, people are taking notice.

We recently learned that in 2014, researchers from Cambridge Analytica created a Facebook app for a personality quiz, which gathered participation from over 270,000 users. However, due to Facebook’s loose restrictions, this third-party app was able to collect private data from those that opted to participate in the survey AND their friends. In the end, Cambridge Analytica gathered details on users’ identities, friends lists, and “likes” given on Facebook for over 87 million unsuspecting people, and they allegedly used this data to influence the United States’ 2016 democratic election.

After news of this scandal surfaced, Facebook has confirmed that this behavior has been restricted – both through their app integration and terms of service. However, they are under increasing pressure to explain why this happened and how they will prevent it from happening in the future. In fact, last week, Mark Zuckerberg was questioned by Congress for over 10 hours of regarding user data and privacy.

Does Facebook know too much?

As part of the ever-growing backlash, there is now a trending hashtag across various social media platforms encouraging users and companies to #DeleteFacebook. While ParksideTech won’t take part in this movement, it does bring to question whether Facebook can be trusted, and given their history of data breaches and lax user privacy, it’s understandable why. When you really think about the extent of information that Facebook owns, it can be worrisome to contemplate how that data can be abused. Just consider the reach that Facebook has:

  • Facebook averages 2 billion monthly users. These users post statuses and upload media, tag peoples’ names in pictures, “check in” at locations and companies around the world, answer surveys, react to and share posts from the platform and so much more. There’s an overabundance of information ready to be analyzed, and all of this data is stored for both personal accounts and company pages. Facebook claims that this data is used for internal advertising purposes. However, this is the information that can easily fall in the wrong hands – as we’ve seen happen with Cambridge Analytica.
  • Facebook owns several communication services that are widely used around the world, including Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp. Even more concerning is the fact that Android users can opt to use Messenger for standard text messaging as well, which allows Facebook to store that user’s complete text/call history and contacts.
  • A user’s Facebook login can be used to access third-party applications and services, which means that the connected platforms can now exchange information back and forth. What this really means is that by clicking the “Log in with Facebook” button, Facebook can now track your usage of that specific service. Not only would they know that you “like” Waze, they would potentially have access to know places you frequently visit and more.
  • Within the Facebook app, users are prompted to “protect” their account by downloading the Onavo Protect VPN app. While this seems innocent enough, Facebook does not make it transparent that they own this VPN, which means that all of your browsing behavior is sent directly to Facebook. Even more concerning is Onavo’s pervasive nature. With its difficulty to be turned off, Onavo can end up tracking your browsing behavior of any website or app that you use, not only your behavior within Facebook itself.
  • Facebook has information about non-Facebook users through use of “shadow profiles”, a term used to reference data collection of people who do not have a Facebook account. A shadow profile is generated through Facebook users who have uploaded contacts, tagged non-user names in photos, or otherwise shared information on Facebook. Through these shadow profiles, Facebook can get a general sense of who you are — even if you’ve never signed up.

Profiling data can be misused

Despite Facebook’s increasing amount of profiling data, some people aren’t concerned – stating that they “have nothing to hide.” However, this type of logic is flawed and dangerous. The worry is not about what you do on the internet. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not likely that someone will pinpoint your account to scour through your innocent browsing history or the hundreds of cat pictures you’ve shared. The concern is about the acquisition of profiling data and the potential for this data to be shared or misused. The concern is about companies who may acquire this data to build profiles on you – profiles that are used for their profit, not your own.

Through the ever-increasing data that Facebook owns, they have enough information to create those profiles. They can provide an overall picture of a person’s habits — their likes and dislikes, their hobbies, their political preference and more. And with their most recent failure at protecting user data, we’re beginning to wonder whether stricter regulation is necessary for protecting how this information is used.

Consider the implications if this type of analyzed data gets into the wrong hands. The possibility for misuse is tremendous. Without regulation of how our data is shared and used, corporations, political organizations and even your everyday employers could use this data as a true personality evaluation. This idea may seem radical to some; however, it could be closer than we’d like to think. In fact, something similar is already taking place in China through their Social Credit System.

For those unaware, the Social Credit System is an initiative put in place by Chinese government to create a national reputation system. Essentially, each citizen is given a “social credit” rating based on their “honesty in government affairs, commercial integrity, societal integrity and judicial credibility”, and this rating is determined through the government’s own collection of profiling data. A citizen’s score largely impacts their everyday life, determining whether they can travel by plane or train, receive a home or auto loan, pay for private school tuition or even create a social media account.

User privacy is important

During Mark Zuckerberg’s Congress hearing last week, he claimed that Facebook allows all users to download the data Facebook has collected on them and delete anything they’d like. Several times throughout the 10-hour interrogation, he said that users decide what to share and who to share it to. However, we have guarantee whether the data Facebook has interpreted from our information is still around. Regardless of removing items from your archive, deleting your account, or never setting one up in the first place, Facebook will still have data about you based on others using the platform.

In the wake of learning that Facebook’s profiling data aided a corporation that sought to influence our 2016 democratic election, it’s time to get serious about user privacy. Unless corporations can understand the importance of keeping private information private, we will be forced to have regulations in place to set better guidelines for transparency and to restrict what can be done with our personal information.

In the meantime, take an active approach to managing your own personal privacy. Read the terms and agreement for services you use, manage the security and privacy settings available in your accounts, and remember that once something is on the internet, it’s there forever. Doing what you can to keep your privacy guarded is the best way to combat the growing reach of companies like Facebook, and if we’re all committed to this common goal, it’ll make for a more secure future.

ParksideTech is committed to customer privacy and will never sell or provide customer data.