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What Information Facebook Knows About You and How To Take Control of It

Remember when social media was just for pet pictures and what you had for lunch? Now it’s one of the world’s most effective data-gathering industries.

Here’s an overview of what’s going on with Facebook privacy, the recent changes it’s made, and how you can see what information Facebook and other social media apps have been collecting about you:

How a survey was used to steal data

Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm that worked for the Donald Trump campaign, harvested data from about 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge to develop microtargeted ads during the 2016 election. The firm:

  1. Paid 300,000 people to take a long “consumer research” survey via Facebook so they could establish a set of predictions about behavior based on personality, political orientation, Likes, etc.
  2. Mined information from each survey-taker’s profile during the Facebook login process and also mined the same data from the survey-takers’ friends, turning access to 300,000 profiles into access to millions of profiles.
  3. Fed the mined data into a model that builds algorithms based to predict behavior, trigger words, and assumptions.

The last part was the secret sauce. Through 253 algorithms, the firm was able to develop very specific messages designed to get very specific responses from very specific personality types. This level of ”psychometrics” is much more granular than the demographics Facebook offers and the data was collected without users’ permission, which violates Facebook policies. Here’s a full recap of what happened from the Guardian: Cambridge Analytica: how did it turn clicks into votes?

Did Cambridge Analytica misuse your personal data? Log into Facebook and click this link to find out.

Facebook has since made these changes

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before both houses of Congress for two days in mid-April and apologized for Facebook’s failures. So far, the company has made these changes to address privacy protection, clickbait, spam, fake accounts and “false news”:

  • Made it easier to manage the apps you use
  • Is removing apps for misusing data and notifying everyone who has used the removed apps
  • Is removing an app’s access to your information if you haven’t used it in the last three months
  • Reduced the data an app can request with Facebook Login
  • Is moving stories that might be clickbait or spam to lower position in your News Feed
  • Is using machine learning to identify behaviors unique to fake accounts so they can remove them
  • Is now only allowing app developers to see a Facebook user’s name, profile photo and email address

These are all helpful changes. Some app developers no longer have access to Facebook users accounts at all while some can’t offer the same services they used to. Many developers are not pleased. They’ve built business models based on having access to your data.

Why Facebook’s changes aren’t enough

While the changes are positive, Facebook is an advertising machine by design. What you see on the platform is based on the information you’ve fed it through your interactions over time. Want to try it out? Search for Like pages and posts about hot air balloon rides and see what happens to your News Feed. You may see ads for hot air balloon rides showing up other places online, too — maybe even in snail mail.

Regardless of Facebook’s efforts to help protect you from bad actors it’s still collecting data about you every time you log in (do you ever log off?), click, Like, comment, and upload. To protect yourself from people who want to use that data to manipulate you, you need to be proactive.

How to manage what Facebook knows about you

Go to your Ad Preferences Page to manage the information that’s been collected about you and limit your exposure to micro-targeted messaging. You can decide which information to let Facebook keep and which to limit or delete.

If you’ve been interacting with Facebook for a long time or are a heavy user, be prepared to see a lot of data collected. Facebook knows you well. The Your Interests section has interest categories listed under tabs from left to right. Review the items in each tab. Other sections cover the advertisers you’ve interacted with, your profile information that’s used to send you targeted ads, and ad settings based on data from Facebook partners and other products. There’s also a section that lets you block alcohol, parenting and pets ads entirely.

This page existed before the Cambridge Analytic ordeal and so did the page on How Facebook Ads Work. Make it a habit to revisit your Ad Preferences each month. Facebook is not going to stop collecting information about you.

How to manage what other social media sites know about you

Ready for the bigger picture? Here’s how to see and manage what your other social media sites know about you:

Instagram

Facebook owns Instagram and your Facebook preferences rollover to Instagram. You can make different privacy adjustments under Settings.

LinkedIn

Under Account, go to Settings & Privacy then review the information under each tab — Account, Privacy, Ads and Communication.

YouTube

YouTube is owned by Google, so you manage the information Google has collected about you through Google Ads Settings. If you have more than one Google account (email address,) you need to manage each account separately. You can edit the Topics You Like and Topics You Don’t Like. For example, if you’ve recently searched for hot air balloon rides but are no longer interested, you can uncheck that topic to stop seeing those ads.

Twitter

Twitter changed its policies on May 25. Under Account, go to Settings and Privacy, then to Privacy and Safety to review Personalization and Data.

Pinterest

Go to your account settings and turn off Personalization. There are a different set of settings for web, Android, iPhone and iPad so make sure to update your preferences on each device you use.

Keep in mind that all of these apps are free for users, which means they make their money by selling advertisers access to you and your interests. As of this moment, Facebook is worth $535 billion and Zuckerberg’s personal net worth is $74 billion. So, if you think your data isn’t valuable, think again!

Everyone here at Leapfrog wants you to be the master of your own data destiny — we’re all about keeping you secure and productive online.

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