This week, all 2.2 billion Facebook users received a notice entitled "Protecting Your Information." The specifics of that message indicate whether your data was stolen by Cambridge Analytica, the data firm responsible for helping tip the 2016 election in Trump's favor.
Cambridge Analytica has a number of alarming issues associated with it. In addition to what many consider to be devious and unethical data harvesting practices, the company's chief executive, Alexander Nix, was captured on a hidden camera proposing using Ukrainian sex workers to bribe or blackmail Sri Lankan politicians. (He has been suspended since that came out.)
The company is also very closely tied to right-wing Republicans, including Rebekah Mercer, co-owner of Breitbart News -- a publication known for regularly publishing what The New York Times calls "'hate news' -- a toxic mix of lies, white-supremacist content, and bullying that can inspire attacks on Muslims, gay people, women, African Americans, and others." Mercer's father, Robert Mercer, has also invested $15 million in the company.
If your information was not affected by what is one of the largest breaches of personal data to date, you got the following message from Facebook (as a pop-up):
[Your Name], We understand the importance of keeping your data safe, and are making it easier to control which apps you share information with.
You can go to the Apps and Websites section of your settings anytime to see the apps and websites you've used Facebook to log into. You can also remove the ones you don't want connected to Facebook anymore.
If your information was stolen, you got this instead:
[Your Name], We understand the importance of keeping your data safe.
We have banned the app "This Is Your Digital Life," which one of your friends used Facebook to log into. We did this because the app may have misused some of your Facebook information by sharing it with a company called Cambridge Analytica. In most cases, the information was limited to public profile, Page likes, birthday, and current city.
You can learn more about what happened and how you can remove apps and websites anytime if you no longer want them to have access to your Facebook information.
There is more work to do, but we are committed to confronting abuse and to putting you in control of your privacy.
The app in question, This is Your Digital Life, was a personality quiz designed by researcher Aleksandr Kogan in 2014. Roughly 270,000 people were paid to take it, and part of the problem is that the app collected data not just on those who took the quiz, but data from their Friends (including details they hadn't meant to share publicly). This was due, in part, to loose restrictions on Facebook's part at the time.
Facebook now limits what kind of data apps can access. Still, it's very much worth limiting your own exposure by removing permission from third-party apps to your personal information. Personally, I think Facebook could have done a better job of explaining how to do so than just "You can learn more about what happened and how you can remove apps and websites."
I took the time to learn more, and it took me only 90 seconds to end access to eight apps, including Hootsuite, MailChimp, Fiverr, Barnes & Noble, and Lootsie Rewards. It's not that I don't like these companies, but I'd prefer to have the minimum amount of my data available from now on.
If you want to do the same, here's how:
- On mobile, go to Settings (the menu is on the bottom right of the screen; scroll all the way to the bottom) >> Account Settings >> Apps >> Logged In With Facebook >> Select the apps whose permission you want to remove.
- On your desktop, go to Settings (from the menu top right) >> Apps and Websites (on the left) >> Select the apps whose permission you want to remove.
Protect your privacy to the extent you can.
Pass it on.