An explosive story has surfaced about the harvesting of private Facebook profile information by a consulting firm that worked on President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016, and Facebook is drawing heavy criticism for its role in the “leak.”
The story “How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions” recently appeared in The New York Times. As detailed by the report, Cambridge Analytica — a consulting firm that secured financial backing from prominent Republican donor Robert Mercer — “harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission.”
The Times notes that the breach “allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.”
As another New York Times report makes clear, Facebook users were paid a small sum to take a “personality quiz” and download an app. That app “would scrape some private information from their profiles and from those of their friends — activity that Facebook permitted at the time.” Only a “tiny fraction” of the estimated 50 million users involved had actually agreed to release their information to a third party.
As one might expect, the U.K.-based Cambridge Analytica has been suspended from Facebook. The firm is also under scrutiny from lawmakers in both the U.S. and the U.K.
But as Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth tweeted, “This was unequivocally not a data breach.” Bosworth pointed out that there was no hack, and nothing was stolen.
Technically, he’s correct. But that creates a different sort of criticism toward Facebook: if this can happen — if there are ways for third parties to use your information without you agreeing to it — can you really trust Facebook at all?
Taking Control Of Facebook
So what can you do? Some who were souring on Facebook might be willing to delete the app completely and leave the platform. That’s certainly one option.
If you are going to remain on Facebook, our best tip would be to take a look at everything linked to your account. Go into your Settings, then click Apps. From there, you’ll be able to see every third-party app in which you’ve logged in using Facebook. Feel free to remove any apps from your account that you don’t want having access to your basic profile information. While you’re at it, click Ads to check out or change your ad settings.
[This and other tips can be found in our article Six Ways To Strengthen Your Facebook Security.]
We would urge all users to not allow access from unknown developers — do you really need to take a personality quiz? It also wouldn’t hurt to create your own logins for third-party apps, rather than relying on Facebook to provide login information.