Over the past few days, there’s been a growing movement of people urging others to delete Facebook after it was claimed that millions of users’ data were collected and used by a third-party company to influence the result of the 2016 US presidential election.
The hashtag #deletefacebook has been trending, on Twitter of course, and now Brian Acton, who co-founded WhatsApp – which Facebook actually bought for $19 billion in 2014 – has also chimed in telling people to delete their accounts, saying it’s ‘time to care about privacy’.
It is time. #deletefacebook
— Brian Acton (@brianacton) March 20, 2018
So what’s this all about – and should we really all be deleting our Facebook? No more cat videos, no more ‘On This Day’ where we can reminisce about side fringes in Grade 11, no more Mean Girls memes?
The Scandal Explained (briefly)
Over the weekend, The Observer published an interview with a man called Christopher Wylie, who used to work with a company called Cambridge Analytica. This company worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the winning Brexit campaign. One of Trump’s former key advisors, Steve Bannon, sat on the board of the company.
How does Facebook come into it? Well, according to Wylie, Cambridge Analytica took personal information from 270,000 people via a personality quiz. The company were then able to take the information of Facebook friends of people who had taken the quiz. It’s claimed more than 50 million profiles had their data from Facebook used without them knowing.
‘Information was then allegedly used to.. target [users] with personalized political adverts on Facebook’
The information was then allegedly used to profile voters and target them with personalized political adverts on Facebook. Cambridge Analytica denied they hold data from Facebook profiles and said: ‘No data was used… as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign.’ Trump’s campaign has also said they didn’t use the data.
‘The most important question for Facebook is how to protect and monitor its users’ data’
Facebook said they believed the personal information of its users by Cambridge Analytica had been destroyed and last week suspended the company. In a statement, they said: ‘If this data still exists, it would be a grave violation of Facebook’s policies and an unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments these groups made.’
So, This Is About Privacy
Ultimately, these reports have led people to wonder just how much information Facebook has on us all.
The UK parliament has now asked the head of Facebook himself, Mark Zuckerberg, to appear in front of a select committee to answer ‘how companies acquire and hold on to user data from [Facebook] and in particular about whether data had been taken without consent’. In the US, there have been calls for him to appear in front of the Senate too.
Facebook’s vice-president Andrew Bosworth said on Sunday that this was ‘not a data breach’ and that ‘people chose to share their data with third-party apps, and if those third-party apps did not follow data agreements with us and users, it is a violation. No systems were infiltrated, no passwords or information were stolen or hacked.’
He then agreed that the most important question for Facebook is how to protect and monitor its users’ data when it comes to third-party apps.
This is the most important question and we will have more to say on it. The specific third party data usage in this case hasn't been possible since 2014 but we need a more complete response. Stay tuned.
— Boz (@boztank) March 19, 2018
What Are The Experts Saying?
If 50 million people’s data was collected without them knowing, then could this happen again? That’s the question that has led some to say the only way to prevent this is to delete your account (although Facebook says they have measures to protect users against this).
— Rachel Clarke (@doctor_oxford) March 20, 2018
Other experts have argued that Cambridge Analytica scandal aside, Facebook does work by gathering data from its users in order to profile them, though this is usually for advertising. For example, when you see an advert for a coat that looks suspiciously like the one you’ve been thinking about buying after payday.
Want To Delete Facebook?
If the whole situation here is freaking you out, then you can delete your account of course.
Firstly, Facebook has an option to deactivate your account, meaning you temporarily won’t have Facebook but you can come back when you want. Your profile won’t be visible to others and people can’t search for you.
‘Permanently deleting your account can take up to 90 days to process’
But to actually delete Facebook is a bit more timely. First off, you have to request that you want to have your account permanently deleted and then this can take up to 90 days to process. If you log back into Facebook during the first few days after requesting it, your request will be canceled.
If you want to take the plunge and fully delete your account, you can choose to download your personal data from Facebook first. This includes posts you’ve shared and commented on, chat conversations, photos and videos, events and statuses you’ve shared – just in case you want to move on with your life but relive any updates you shared 10 years ago moaning about the fact you go back to school on Monday.
And If You Don’t Want To Delete It…
On the other side, people have been saying not to delete Facebook. Remember, Facebook also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, so will your issues with one social media site be fixed if you keep your accounts with the others?
— Victoria Anderson (@VFAnderson) March 20, 2018
Okay you might #deletefacebook, but what about Instagram and Whatsapp? Those are all owned by the same company. If you're still using those apps, you data is still on their servers.
— Bhavik Lathia (@bhaviklathia) March 21, 2018
Others have said that Facebook is the main way in which they can keep in touch with geographically distant family members, so they can’t really afford to give that up.
If you want to delete Facebook, go ahead. Just know that's a privilege.
For much of the world, Facebook is the internet and only way to connect to family/friend/business. That's why its important to have a real discussion re Facebook's security/privacy issues.
— Sheera Frenkel (@sheeraf) March 18, 2018
There is a widespread belief that Facebook is a frivolous thing people should just quit. Two billion people use it. For many of them, it *is* the Internet. For others, it's the only way to stay in contact with family or loved ones. Facebook has worked hard to get ubiquitous
— Pinboard (@Pinboard) March 18, 2018
It’s worth remembering that there are also a ton of privacy settings you can change to make sure Facebook fits for you. There is an app settings page on Facebook where you can fully see the apps you have given access to, which you can change if you fancy. In this section, there’s also an option to edit ‘apps others use’ where you can un-tick details about yourself that third parties could potentially see and use.