CROMWELL -- Social media users learned a difficult lesson last week with the revelation that millions of Facebook users’ personal data was sold to a data mining company, according to Connecticut Better Business Bureau.
It began in 2014, when 270 thousand Facebook users downloaded a survey app called “thisisyourdigitallife.” Unknown to them, the application also mined their friends’ information, bringing the total number of people affected to 50 million.
Facebook users’ friends’ data was harvested without their knowledge or consent and they didn’t know about it until it was publicized. The information was collected by a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, to fashion targeted political campaign messages.
“Before the internet, marketing companies had to work hard to gather data on large numbers of people,” according to Connecticut Better Business Bureau spokesman Howard Schwartz. “The popularity of the internet and participation in social media sites in particular, has made the collection, distribution and sale of marketing information much quicker and easier. Personal information, consumers’ preferences and buying habits provide invaluable data for marketers, and they are gathering that information on an unprecedented scale”
Statistically, consumers who use at least one social media site likely have profiles on other similar platforms. This has raised fears that a similar situation can happen on other websites, social media and smart phone apps.
Quizzes may seem to ask silly questions, however, they can help put together a profile that can be used in ways you never imagined. Cambridge Analytica’s actions illustrate how participating in a quiz might mean you are voluntarily giving away information about yourself, family and friends. This can include your shopping, browsing, travel, personal opinions, habits and more.
Users who delete their Facebook profiles should keep in mind that Facebook’s policy involves holding on to information in profile backups for several months.
BBB offers these tips to help protect yourself from unwanted use of your personal information:
- Remove personal details from your profiles - This would include information such as your email address, telephone phone number or home address on social media accounts and other websites.
- Understand the risks - We now know that seemingly innocent information can be used to build a profile on you that can be sold to anyone trying to influence public opinion.
- Delete apps and games you don’t use - In addition, remove apps or games from your profile that you did not download or don’t recognize.
- Take control of your data - You can edit or revoke access permission for individual apps. For example, you may decide that you don’t want a certain app to have access to your friends list, even if you have granted this in the past.
- Avoid using Facebook to log on to other websites - Some sites allow you to create a login from scratch or use Facebook, Google or other apps to log on. Consider how much you want your personal information to be exposed.
- Carefully check your privacy settings - You can control some third party access and data collection to some degree, but it may take a few steps to accomplish this. Websites can change privacy options without your knowledge.
You can find more about BBB and the cyber security resources available to both businesses and consumers at BBB.org/cybersecurity.