Allegations last week that tens of millions of U.S. Facebook profiles were harvested in 2016 by Cambridge Analytica, a London-based voter profiling company, have caused one of the biggest crises in the platform’s existence.
Facebook also faces enraged political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic.
In Britain, MPs have summoned CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear before a House of Commons committee, while UK information commissioner Elizabeth Denham has said she is seeking a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s servers. British MPs may have to share Zuckerberg with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which also wants him to testify.
One of the claims made by Christopher Wylie, a Canadian-born whistleblower, is that an app he helped create captured not just the personal details of several hundred thousand people paid to take a personality test, but those of all their Facebook friends as well, bringing as many as 50 million people’s Facebook data onto Cambridge Analytica’s radar.
The data was used by Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign to microtarget advertising on Facebook, the Guardian has reported.
If all this makes you uneasy, you can change your Facebook settings to stop apps from seeing your account.
“By default, a lot of your Facebook information is open to being shared with apps and platforms outside Facebook,” explains Gennie Gebhart, a researcher at the Electronic Freedom Foundation. “It’s putting up a wall that I think should be there by default, to keep your information where you put it.”
On Monday, Gebhart showed readers how to close your Facebook account to apps:
Click on Settings
Click on Apps
Edit Apps, Websites and Plugins
And click Disable Platform
By doing this, you may lose some useful features of your account, Gebhart cautions.
“You do lose a bit of functionality. If you’re keeping apps out of your Facebook account, you definitely can’t use your login credentials to access those apps. That’s the biggest disadvantage that people could run into, that they’re not able to use Facebook login across the Web anymore.”
Using Facebook with more restrictive settings could be an attractive alternative to deleting an account for people with a lot of their digital lives tied up in the platform, Gebhart says.
“For many people, deleting Facebook is not an option. Social capital is tied up in it. That might be the only way to communicate with friends or family, or businesses. It may be the only way to do business, if your brand depends on that public platform.”
WATCH: The man at the centre of a scandal involving the exploitation of private information from millions of Facebook users – allegedly to benefit U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign – is from B.C. Rumina Daya reports.
Gebhart sees the whole process as far too opaque, and too easy for users to get wrong.
“Every click that you have to do to get to this settings option is another opportunity for a mistake that you don’t notice. You may think that the settings are where you want them to be, and they’re not. These user interfaces can be really confusing. They can use words that aren’t associated with the kind of settings change you’re after.”
Some have been startled by how much information Facebook can infer about a person from their account, and how that data can be linked to other information about them.
LISTEN: Can you protect your Facebook? Cybersecurity expert David Shipley weighs in
David Carroll, a New York-based professor, was partly successful in getting voter data held about him by Cambridge Analytica by filing a request under British privacy laws. He was sent a file which included scores out of 10 for how the company thought he felt about a range of issues, based on his Facebook activity. ‘Environment Importance Rank,’ for example, was an 8. (Carroll called the scores “roughly accurate.“)
Carroll’s data also cross-referenced information gleaned about him from Facebook to voter data which showed where and how often he had voted, and his party affiliation.
Carroll is now suing Cambridge Analytica in the British courts, arguing that the company has much more information about him than he was given – the Facebook data the scores were based on, for example.
© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.