A guide to apps, data settings and how to keep your data private.
Whether you are looking to download software or are concerned about how your online activity is gathered and analysed, the need to stay private when using the internet has been brought into sharp focus in recent months. How, then, can you stay private in this brave new world?
When UK newspaper The Guardian in collaboration with Channel 4 News broke the story which alleged that a marketing agency called Cambridge Analytica had illegally accessed private data from 87 million Facebook profiles and used that data to create complex psychological profiles and targeted ad campaigns with the power to swing international elections, it woke a large portion of the public up to how laissez-faire they had been with their online activity.
While many people were vaguely aware that tech giants such as Google and Facebook used their data to target them with advertising – and indeed accepted this as the price which must be paid for a free-at-the-point-of-use internet experience – the insidious nature of how Cambridge Analytica both acquired and used data came as a huge shock. The net result of the exposé was that Cambridge Analytica folded, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was called before US Congress to answer questions about how the breach of privacy was allowed to happen. Facebook is estimated to have lost $35 billion from its value as a result of the scandal.
Now, in a post-Cambridge Analytica world, many people are asking how they can make sure their private data stays private.
The main way Cambridge Analytica accessed our data was through the installation of Facebook apps created by third party companies. You’ve probably seen or used one of these apps before – they’re the sort which offer a personality test, or tell you what your most used words are, or which Disney princess you are, that kind of thing.
The quid pro quo of installing these apps is that you’re asked to give their creators access to your profile and all the data it contains. However, the real rub is that, via your profile, these apps could also gain access to information about of all your friends – whether they have installed the app or not.
The lesson learned is that it’s better not to install these apps at all. Ask yourself whether your private data – and that of your friends – is really a price worth paying in order to be arbitrarily assigned a random cartoon character. I think you’ll probably come to the conclusion that it’s not.
Check Your Existing Data Settings
Now you’ve made the truly wise decision to no longer make pseudoscientific “experiments” which claim to reveal whether you are right- or left-brain-dominant a priority over your online security, it’s time to start papering over the cracks of any damage you may have already done.
Head over to your Facebook app settings (i.e. the settings for apps installed on your Facebook profile, and not the settings for your Facebook smartphone app) and have a look at all the apps you have given permission to access your Facebook profile. This section will contain not only the apps you’ve directly installed on your profile, but also any websites you’ve registered with using your Facebook details. Go through the list and uninstall any you don’t recognise or no longer use by clicking the X next to each icon.
Of course, the only way to keep your data 100% private from Facebook and its associates is to remove yourself from the platform entirely. It’s a fact of life, now, that the price of using a free social media platform such as Facebook is giving those platforms access to our private data. However, that’s not to say that we must accept the Wild West-type environment which gave Cambridge Analytica licence to behave in the way it did.
Thankfully, this scandal coming to the fore has shone a light on the current state of affairs, and now people are more informed about the power and value of their data than ever before.
The new GDPR rules from the European Union – due to come into force on 25th May 2018 – are designed specifically to give people more control than ever before over how their data is stored and used by corporations, which will only serve to further reign in these unscrupulous practices.
“When we heard back from Cambridge Analytica that they had told us that they weren’t using the data and deleted it, we considered it a closed case”, said Facebook Founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, speaking to Congress. “In retrospect, that was clearly a mistake. We shouldn’t have taken their word for it. We’ve updated our policy to make sure we don’t make that mistake again. […] It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy”.
Every internet user has a responsibility to manage their data and to take care with the services they access and the apps they install. It’s not just your own data which is vulnerable to exploitation, but that of your unwitting friends as well.
Please head down to the comments section below and let us know whether your information was compromised as a result of the Cambridge Analytica scandal (Facebook sent notifications to all persons who were affected), and whether or not the story has led you to change the way you manage your online behaviour.