Is deleting Facebook the answer?

Mar 21, 2018 · 5 min read

Today, I didn’t delete Facebook. I probably won’t tomorrow or any time soon.

I know. Facebook screwed up. It let a partner collect your data and the data of all your friends and then that partner shared it outside of Facebook.

Most of what Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan did, building an app that harvests data not only from the Amazon Mechanical Turk Participants but every single one of their Facebook Friends, is not expressly against Facebook’s rules. But sharing it to a third-party, Cambridge Analytica, was a big no-no.

When Facebook realized that Kogan and, by extension, Cambridge Analytica had broken their data privacy rules, it immediately told them to delete all the data.

Facebook did not:

  • Follow up on this request
  • Alert any of the potential 50 million Facebook users that they may have been the subject of a data hijacking.

I don’t call it a breach because this wasn’t a hack. Kogan got the data through then legitimate means and he didn’t have to crack a single Facebook user’s account. All of us on Facebook give up this data every single day.

Take a minute, right now, to travel to your Facebook’s Settings page, specifically the Apps home. It’s in the fourth section on the left-hand menu. If you think its relative position indicates lack of importance you’d be wrong. Click on the link. I bet you’ve never looked at this page before. Here’s a key piece of text from the top:

“On Facebook, your name, profile picture, cover photo, gender, networks, username, and user id are always publicly available to both people and apps. Learn why. Apps also have access to your friends list and any information you choose to make public.”

Under every app, and if you’re like me you have dozens of them, is a privacy setting. The top list of apps shows you who in your Facebook network can see your activity on any app when used within Facebook. Most of them start by letting everyone see everything. I’m sure you want to change all these settings right now, but let’s plow on for a minute.

Why did I install all these apps?

Scroll down and you can see a box called “Apps Others Use.” The purpose of this setting can be a little confusing and even the description is a little opaque:

“People who can see your info can bring it with them when they use apps. Use this setting to control the categories of information people can bring with them.”

“Bring with them”? How does that work? Once you click on “Edit” the full horror of it is revealed.

There is a stunning amount of my information that my friends carry with them like dozens of remoras latched onto a slow-moving whale. Any Facebook app they use is just waiting to snap up those fish…er data.

Must share less. Must share less. Must share less.

Through some miracle, I was only sharing when I’m online, my current city and My App Activity. The last one is vague enough to give one pause, but perhaps I’ll just turn that off right now.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t understand what Facebook and its partners are doing with all this data. Data is the equivalent of dollars in the online world. Facebook’s approach is, in some ways, more direct than all those web sites and ad servers who drop cookies on you and then track your every move across the Web.

Still, this is a day of reckoning for Facebook and others in the user data game. Trust me, Facebook will not be the last online platform to come under scrutiny. It’s very likely Congress will drag Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and maybe even SnapChat’s Evan Spiegel before committee to explain themselves. It should be a painful hearing. Most in Congress do not understand intricacies of data harvesting and how it might differ from a data breach.

In the meantime, I’m watching a lot of warranted anger directed toward Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Kogan.

It almost seems to dwarf the anger at Equifax for their data breach and Target for the one they had in 2013, and Yahoo for the mother of all breaches. These represent true dereliction of duty.

What Facebook did was still legal, in the name of business and, yes, kind of shady, much in the way many money-making corporations are. A site that relies on user activity and advertiser dollars to make money is naturally going to do whatever it can to increase both. Facebook is not a charity. It was not designed for social good, and I’m stunned that people still believe that Facebook should have started with people’s best interests at heart.

I am concerned that people want to tear the whole thing down, bring Facebook to its knees and start over. Facebook currently employs over 24,000 people. I doubt anyone wants to see all those people out of work.

Facebook is an important part of California’s economy and plays small part in local economies around the world. In some parts of the developing world, Facebook is, for better or worse, the only way people access the Internet. If it’s gone, something else will have to be built, and quickly, in its place.

For many, though, this is the last straw with Facebook. After 18 months of revelations about how the Russians manipulated us on our most popular social platform and may have helped Donald Trump win the Presidential election, people are fed up. But then, as now, the trigger is still the people who use the platform. Who don’t think twice about liking something that supports their preconceived notion, even if it isn’t true. Who regularly share that they’re playing Candy Crush and have never read a Terms of Service document or adjusted their own settings.

A handful of people, heck, even a million people, publicly proclaiming they’re turning off their accounts and then actually leaving Facebook will not shut down the 2.1 billion-people strong social network. But that action and the current public sentiment has damaged people’s trust. Over time, it may hamper Facebook’s growth in the U.S and U.K. and it might even shrink its footprint in those markets.

On the other hand, Facebook still has options.

Someone noted that people who were cancelling their Facebook accounts told friends to find them on Instagram…which is owned by Facebook.

Facebook made mistakes and Cambridge Analytica and Kogan were just plain wrong. But when you’re on a social media network, you are not absolved of responsibility any more than you are when driving a car. Ford built it, but you’re the one driving it into a pole.

So, yes, delete Facebook, if you must, but what will you do when another social network comes along?

Lance Ulanoff

Written by

Tech expert, journalist, social media commentator, amateur cartoonist and robotics fan.

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