April 18, 2018

The Facebook Data Scandal

"Privacy means people know what they're signing up for, in plain English and repeatedly… I believe people are smart and some people want to share more data than other people do. Ask them. Ask them every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them if they get tired of your asking them. Let them know precisely what you're going to do with their data." – Steve Jobs[i]

What happened?

In 2014, thousands of Americans took a quiz. They consented to the terms and conditions, answered a few personal questions, received a small payout, and went on with life. Four years later, thousands of Americans are regretting it. 

The quiz, part of a personality predictor app, was created by researcher Aleksander Kogan, a man hired by the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to collect Facebook data belonging to Americans. After harvesting the data, Kogan used it to create psychological profiles, which in turn were used for micro-targeted ads and messages with the goal of influencing behavior, particularly behavior at the ballot box[ii]. The legitimacy of Cambridge Analytica’s supposed ability to influence elections – which most have dismissed as hot air– isn’t the thing keeping people up at night. It is the utter and complete invasion of privacy.

The app didn’t just impact those who participated, but their friends as well. Only 270,000 people downloaded and took the quiz, yet 50 million users had their data tapped[iii]. The obtained data included everything from location check-ins, to message conversations, phone numbers, photos, videos, saved credit card numbers, and more[iv].

Both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have maintained that nothing criminal occurred and, unfortunately, they’re right. When you skimmed to the bottom of the terms and conditions notices from Facebook and clicked “yes”, you inadvertently gave your consent to have your information shared; therefore, all of the actions taken were completely legal. Disturbing? We think so too.

What now?

At this point, there is no way no track and remove all of the data that was taken – it’s out there. So, what can be done? Maybe it’s time to start paying attention to the apps we download, the information we grant access to, and our online footprint, in general. It would be wise to remember that with every like, status update, photo post, location check-in, etc., you are turning over personal data to be tracked and possibly harvested.

Forgoing technology completely is nearly impossible, but with a few steps it is easy to regain a little privacy. For example, you can create a separate email account to be used only for social media logins. Additionally, we recommend that you check your security settings and app permissions frequently to make sure nothing has changed without your knowledge, and be cautious of the quizzes and games you play. Lastly, removing location settings and not “checking in” to places lessens the probability of geo-tagging, i.e. allowing your location to be tracked digitally.

We strongly encourage those within our industry to guard privacy more seriously. The terms and conditions of services and apps should be clearly stated and easy to understand. Users need to be made undeniably aware of what information will be collected, how it will be used, and how they can modify privacy settings. 

The good news is that you can now see what information is included in your Facebook profile. To view the information Facebook has archived about you, go to your profile settings, scroll to the bottom and click “Download a copy of your Facebook data.” A zip file will then be downloaded to your computer. Happy browsing!

Click the following links to hear what Fortalice CEO Theresa Payton has to say about the Facebook data scandal:

FTC Launches Investigation into Facebook Amid New Allegations of Data Collection

Theresa Payton: Keeping Your Info Safe with Facebook Going Forward 




[i] http://money.cnn.com/2018/03/27/technology/steve-jobs-mark-zuckerberg-privacy-2010/index.html


[iii] https://medium.com/@IAMEIdentity/the-facebook-data-mining-scandal-what-happened-82154855aeca

[iv] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/23/how-to-download-a-copy-of-facebook-data-about-you.html