Facebook has 911 MB worth of data on me, how much should I really care?
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After nearly three years on Facebook, I decided to ask for my data. In one simple link, readily available in my account settings, I was able to download the social identity I had created.
During my sophomore year of college I had deleted my original Facebook account, a mere three years after I created that one. I realized that I didn't want people from high school to creep on me … nor did I feel I needed a digital soapbox.
But alas, come 2015, a new friend prompted my return. I didn't object. Admittedly, I have ignored 97 friend requests so far (it's nothing personal, guys).
The 911 MB download took approximately five minutes to complete. But once downloaded, the file was in a disarray, a sort of scrambled version of my user information that included images, messages, tags, etc.
And the quantity of Facebook's knowledge is vast and extends far beyond what I was allowed to download. But as I begrudgingly identify as a millennial, I've always been aware of Big Brother.
Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook is our 21st century Big Brother.
Many of us have more or less willingly surrendered a portion of our privacy for the fun, convenience and thrill of social media. The Cambridge Analytica scandal only highlighted what was already known about data privacy. The political consulting firm took advantage of a feature that was readily available.
How can you punish a child who stuck a hand in the cookie jar when the cookie jar was left open?
Unfortunately for Facebook, Cambridge Analytica "improperly" took about 87 million cookies, or the data attached to 87 million of Facebook's users, according to the company's CTO Mike Schroepfer, in a blog post Wednesday.
"While this may not be a true security breach in the traditional sense, the fact remains that personal information was exploited and those people whose data was exploited had no control nor knowledge" of the use of data "by anyone other than Facebook," said Ken Spinner, VP of engineering at Varonis, in an interview with CIO Dive.
Facebook is allowing its users to check if they are among those 87 million people, but that does not resolve the underlying issue Facebook has created for itself and its users' protection.
In the same announcement, Schroepfer admitted that "malicious actors have also abused" features that enabled personal searches "to scrape public profile information by submitting phone numbers or email addresses they already have through search and account recovery."
"We believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped in this way," he said. The social network hosts about two billion users.
There wasn't much substance to my data download because I don't have a very flamboyant online personality. But if I did, I imagine the download would be a bit more alarming.
With all of these suspicions confirmed, I had to ask myself, "how much do I really care?" The answer varies from day to day. And even in a post-Cambridge Analytica world, I still haven't deleted my Facebook profile. Those cookies have yet to crumble, I guess.
You did this to us, Zuck, and we liked it
Facebook already plays a fundamental role in the erosion of social norms, but we can't put all the blame on the site for its handling of data we voluntarily submitted. Every user on the platform offers an online identity to the site and frankly, the world.
Even if you reserve your email, phone number or even profile pictures from public view, "you're not hiding that information from Facebook itself," said Doug Crawford, staff writer for BestVPN, in an interview with CIO Dive.
And though the #deleteFacebook campaign was ignited the week the Cambridge Analytica news broke, that flame seems to be losing its heat. "It's very difficult for a user to opt out" when they've been a part of the network for years, if not more than a decade, said Crawford.
Even without a Facebook account, the social network can still track a user's activity across the internet, thus creating an individualized web dossier, and "find meaning" from that, according to Crawford. Sites like Facebook and Google use such data to construct personalized ads, a central part of their revenue.
For someone like me, who relies on Facebook to log into other apps, it's quite possible Cambridge Analytica knows how much I love tofu based off the number of saved recipes on my Pinterest. I'm unsure of what they would do with that knowledge anyway.
My web dossier cannot be too thrilling, it is enough to scratch the surface of my personality, interests and online routines, just like everyone else. This is key data for marketers and advertisers. If I get a sponsored ad from Tofurkey on my feed every now and then, so what.
Keep calm and carry on
Prior to the most recent revelations, the social network had been coolly defiant about serving as a vehicle for malicious actors to carry out fake news campaigns and clog the newsfeed of its users. But for whatever reasons that may never be clear to the public, Facebook never hired a plumber to clear the clogs.
Even now, with GDPR lingering over the European Union, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he will not adopt those data protection practices internationally but will act "in spirit" with the regulations.
Though the social network already complies with much of GDPR's fundamental practices, Zuckerberg's comments come at a time that user consent and awareness is at an all time high.
But in 2018, where the average person has about 80 apps on a phone, we seem to be coming to terms with how much we care vs. how much we are supposed to care.
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