By Kari Paul, MarketWatch
Your Facebook “likes” could be swinging elections.
Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that worked for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, reportedly used the Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB +0.63% data of more than 50 million users without their knowledge, possibly contributing to the president’s win in November 2016.
Following outrage at the news, Facebook suspended the accounts Cambridge Analytica and parent firm Strategic Communications Laboratories for policy violations, the company’s deputy general counsel Paul Grewal said in a blog post . (Facebook did not immediately reply to request for comment.)
On Wednesday, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg finally released a statement. “In this case, we already took the most important steps a few years ago in 2014 to prevent bad actors from accessing people’s information in this way,” he wrote on Facebook. “But there’s more we need to do.” Zuckerberg pledged to be more vigilant with third party apps from accessing user data.
“While this specific issue involving Cambridge Analytica should no longer happen with new apps today, that doesn’t change what happened in the past,” he said. “We will learn from this experience to secure our platform further and make our community safer for everyone going forward.”
Facebook has been widely criticized over the mishandled data, but the company didn’t do anything illegal, said Jamie Court, president of consumer protection group Consumer Watchdog — and that’s part of the problem.
“Unfortunately, under federal law these companies are often not held accountable for privacy violations,” he said. “They have been able to fend off legal accountability regarding the actions of third parties even when they essentially conspire with them.”
He said it is up to the Federal Trade Commission to enforce existing regulations on these companies and to Congress to pass better laws protecting consumers. (The FTC did not respond to request for comment.)
A bill passed by the House in February aims to hold websites accountable for what third parties host on their platforms. It’s one of the first to chip away at the protections big tech companies have in the U.S. Another ballot measure proposed in California for the 2018 elections requires companies to disclose exactly what data they collect and how it is handled.
Here are some measures you can take to minimize the hold it has on your privacy:
Revoke access from connected apps
When you give permission for games and other apps to access your Facebook account, third-party companies can often crawl your phone for more data, including your friends’ contact information. That’s how Cambridge Analytica allegedly retrieved the information of 50 million users from just a few hundred thousand people who opted to take a free personality quiz on Facebook.
Some apps allow location tracking while others upload your phone contacts and even photos. To revoke app permissions, follow these steps on your Facebook page:
• Go to “account settings.”
• Click “apps” on the left-hand sidebar.
• Click the “X” on the right of each app to revoke access to your data.
• Confirm “remove” when the window prompts you to do so.
You can also disable Facebook’s “platform” feature, which stops Facebook from integrating with games and other apps for login purposes in the future.
See what Facebook knows about you and opt out
If you live in the U.K. or the European Union, Facebook is required to let you see what information is collected on you. You can find the option to download data under settings. Even if you don’t live in a place with strict privacy laws — like the U.S., for example — Facebook lets users see what is collected on them in other ways.
Under “Facebook Ads,” users can see what information Facebook thinks it knows about them. This will include pages you’ve actually liked as well as interests the algorithm has inferred you have based on your behavior (including card games, thriller movies, and romance novels). You can remove these ads by clicking the “x” in the top right corner of each image. Although it does not stop companies from tracking you, it will make your ads less personalized.
Facebook says you can opt out of these ads under “ad settings,” but the program only allows you to opt out of around 100 specific companies, it also relies on cookies and — as privacy organization the Electronic Frontier Foundation has noted — “does not actually stop tracking,” including that allegedly carried out by Cambridge Analytica.
An example from the author’s Facebook page.
Under “privacy settings and tools,” you can limit who sees future posts, who can send friend requests, who can see your friend list, and who can look you up using the email or phone number linked to your account. (This is especially advisable for friends who you don’t know very well.) Of course, this won’t stop Facebook from mining data from you but will limit the amount of information other users can see about you online. You can also opt out of “face recognition” under “face recognition settings.”
Turn off location services
You may want to consider opting out of location-stamping posts, especially if they are public. This won’t limit what Facebook collects on you, but can limit your visibility on the internet. Simply click the “X” next to the name of the city on your status avoid revealing where you are . Facebook’s main app as well as its Messenger app also track user location. You can turn this off on iOS under ”settings,” “location services,” and toggling them “off” for Facebook. On Android, it is under “settings,” “app,” “permissions.”
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Call your elected officials
Few consumer privacy protection laws exist in the U.S., Court of Consumer Watchdog said, and those that do center on identity theft and require proof of financial damage due to an identity crime. To change that, consumers need to demand more.
“The public needs to rise up if Congress is ever going to challenge Facebook,” Court said. “The problem is politicians are elected by the same privacy violations consumers are against.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy organization, sends out email updates on how to take action against laws that threaten consumer privacy, or use the site to look up your representative’s contact information.
Delete your account
The only way to truly get Facebook to stop tracking you is to delete your account entirely.
“If you use Facebook, the price you pay is your data,” said B.J. Mendelson, author of ‘ Privacy: And How to Get it Back ’ “You can’t really avoid these leaks. The change has to come through Facebook itself (and the other tech companies) or through regulation of those companies.”
Facebook allows users to deactivate an account temporarily or delete it permanently , although it does not say it will delete the data it holds on users after they go.