The Problem With Facebook: what you need to know

Jordan Windham, Social Media Editor

Facebook is selling your information and has not protected how that information is used.

That’s the headline in tech news for the last few weeks. I didn’t panic; after all, what could they possibly have on me?

I don’t exactly post diary excerpts. I’m not famous or important either, so my information can’t be valuable, can it?

Still, I’m an inquisitive person, so I set out to find exactly what was happening. The first step to anything is information gathering, that’s exactly what I did.

Turns out, that first step sent me straight down the rabbit hole.

I started with finding out what data Facebook has on me.

Step 1: go to
Step 2: click “download a copy of your Facebook data”
Step 3: open the zip file that you downloaded

Look at the data that Facebook has compiled on me based on my usage both on Facebook and on any other apps I’ve linked to my Facebook account.

I don’t do a lot on Facebook. I make a point to try to avoid turning to social media…not that it’s particularly effective for an online student!

The most striking information that they had on me was a list of every ad or event that had ever been put before me, and how I had interacted with it. It recorded which ads or events I had ignored, commented on and reacted to. It also saved a list of any ad links that I have clicked on.

There was a list of the people with whom I am friends, and the requests I have rejected, as well as the date and time I had accepted or rejected them!

The most troubling part is that Facebook keeps a comprehensive record of every login and activity session I’ve ever had on Facebook. This log included the date and time of the session, my IP address (basically my computer’s ID), and the software my browser was running.

Facebook even had data on who my peer group would be, and they got it right. This is only the information that Facebook says that it has on me; it doesn’t include what they have learned about me, and make no mistake, they are learning about their users.

“Learning what?” is the burning question. They didn’t give me any of the multitude of conclusions and extrapolations they have made from the data.

I can’t help but wonder, what are they doing with my information?

But first, consider this: Facebook is free for users. Why is it free? Because you aren’t Facebook’s customer, you’re their product.

Facebook didn’t become a billion-dollar company because you’re able to tell your buddies from high school what you ate for dinner. Facebook makes money through advertising. It’s the new medium for news and advertising, and companies can pay to have Facebook promote their content in users’ news feeds.

Facebook takes your information and uses it to make assumptions about your interests. They use this to profile and identify you. They know you well enough to accurately tailor ads to your tastes, based only on a few sentences, numbers, and likes.

They are selling advertisers access to you and others like you, identifying the best things to let others sell you based on personal information and how you interact with Facebook’s system.

If you aren’t wary of this, here’s why you should be: we don’t know the full extent of what Facebook can do with this data. We don’t fully know what is happening to the data collected by and on Facebook, and neither do they.

Now that you know the background information, let’s take a look at the scandal. The Facebook scandal was broken by reporters investigating the Trump campaign. Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics company that worked with the Trump campaign, obtained personal information on people.

It’s hard to even think about where to start when it comes to fixing this. Tech companies are giant corporations; trying to fight them is the modern day equivalent of David vs. Goliath. Yet, giving up never solved anything. So, how do you protect yourself and your privacy?

There are three options: stop using the services that track you; control and limit the damage; or, regulate the internet.

The first option is nigh on impossible for anyone except crazy old Uncle Joe, who lives
who-knows-where in a cabin without electricity, deep in a forest no one knows exists.

Unless living off the grid and being totally self-sufficient is an option for you, chances are high that you will need some form of social media to be successful, connected and stay in-touch.

People have begun to stop using Facebook, using “#DeleteFacebook” to showcase their decision. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, has deleted his companies’ Facebook profiles, and has tweeted about it.

This is not an option for many, who have to use Facebook for work communication, advertising and keeping in touch with people who live far away. For example, I can’t delete Facebook, because my employer puts out the work schedules on a Facebook group.

Option two: limit the effects. There are several ways to do this. I recommend that you look into online privacy and security options that fit you. I opted out of “ad personalization”, which is where they collect data to better select ads that would be of interest to you.

To limit ad tracking on your phone, go to the “Settings” app on your phone. Go to “Privacy”, and then scroll down to the bottom. Tap “Advertising”, turn on “Limit Ad Tracking” and also “Reset Advertising Identifier”. You will still receive ads, but the advertisers will not be able to access your information in order to tailor ads to your interests.

I have also limited my use of the app, as well as what I access through it. You can use your Facebook account as a login for third parties like WhatsApp. Facebook will be able to access information through this, so some may want to delete the accounts linked to their Facebook account and create new ones attached to their email. Do some research and find what works for you.

Regulation of Facebook is the third option. Facebook has abused it’s powers. Abuse of power is wrong and should be stopped. Now, the question is how to achieve this, and protect Facebook users. Mark Zuckerberg, creator and CEO of Facebook, has called for regulations on the company. However, he was not clear what type of regulations thought necessary, nor has he made any efforts to regulate the company that he is in charge of. He is set to testify to the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the Cambridge Analytica scandal on April 10th.

Some tech giants say that it is too late for Facebook to self-police, and that the government must intervene. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook also called for regulations to be implemented to curb Facebook. Senator Ted Cruz has held a Congressional hearing with tech leaders to discuss the problems endemic in social media and tech, and solutions to them.

There are many solutions proposed to fix the problems with social media and the internet. Leave a comment and let us know which solution you think is best!