Sunday, April 15, 2018

Take Control of Your Data – Part 2


The second part of this series deals with handling information on the most populated social media channel of the world – FACEBOOK. In the wake of the data leakage at Facebook via Cambridge Analytica, #deletefacebook started trending on Twitter. The data of around 87 million+ people were misused in some manner or the other to influence them or their voting patterns. Does that include your data? If you want to check, read on. 

Since the scandal, Facebook has banned the third party brokers, so that means your data is safe. Absolutely not!!! They’ve banned third-party brokers, not collecting your data. That will continue. Thus, it will be sold – maybe at better rates now as Facebook will do it directly. Ironically, Facebook may profit from a problem of their own making! Also, Zuckerberg himself has said that it could take another two years to fully safeguard users’ data.

Don’t you think that you need take control of your data? If yes, let’s begin.

Let’s Create Confusion

Facebook’s revenue comes from the advertisements that you see on Facebook. But how does the advertiser know whether you like an android phone or an iPhone? Do you love video games or reading books? All this information is gathered by profiling your Facebook activity, your interests, your likes, dislikes, comments, pokes and what not. Your profile also receives inputs basis the friends you have, what they like, how much do you interact with them, how much you comment on their habits, behaviors etc. A recent research has indicated that by mining your activity on Facebook and creating a targeted advertisement, the advertisers stand a 90% + chance that you would get influenced and buy that product. Sounds fun!!! 

Every time you or someone in the world opens up Facebook, a sophisticated, influential and a misunderstood algorithm starts its functioning. Basis your likes, dislikes, comments it present you a newsfeed which targets and influences you.  It gives what you would like to see. Let’s understand it through a very crude example. Yesterday, you liked a post of your friend staying at the Four Seasons Hotel in Dubai. Basis this like, the algorithm then targets you with an advertisement of either some hotels in Dubai or the Four Seasons Hotel itself. 

Hence, it is all that you input goes into the algorithm and the output is a profile based on what you like or dislike. But what could if we can find a way to confuse this algorithm to some extent. Consider this, if an application could randomize your likes and dislikes and reactions on Facebook, the algorithm would get confused.

You may always strike as a balanced person to the algorithm. There is an extension called “Go Rando” created by Ben Grosser, a professor at the University of Illinois. It aims to confuse Facebook by randomizing your reactions on a post. Regardless of pressing ‘Haha’ or ‘Sad’ on a post, the free tool will balance all your reactions so that Facebook’s AI can’t make sense of your actual preferences.


“Every time you click “Like”, Go Rando randomly chooses one of the six “reactions” for you. Over time, you appear to Facebook as someone whose feelings are emotionally “balanced”- someone who feels Angry as much as Haha or Sad as much as Love,” Grosser said.
Notably, Grosser has open-sourced Go Rando on GitHub. Also, if you’re not using Chrome, you can still install it.

Another experiment which has been developed by MIT Lab is GOBO, As per the website ( https://gobo.social/),  Gobo is a social media aggregator with filters you control. You can use Gobo to control what’s edited out of your feed or configure it to include news and points of view from outside your usual orbit. Gobo aims to be completely transparent, showing you why each post was included in your feed and inviting you to explore what was filtered out by your current filter settings.



To use Gobo, you link your Twitter and Facebook accounts to Gobo and choose a set of news publications that most closely resembles the news you follow online. Gobo retrieves recent posts from these social networks and lets you decide which ones you want to see. Want more posts from women? Adjust the slider to set the gender balance of your feed… or just click on the “mute all men” button and listen to the folks who often get shouted down in online dialogs. Want to broaden the perspectives in your feed? Move the politics slider from “my perspective” to “lots of perspectives” and Gobo introduces news stories from sources you might not otherwise find.

Limit Your Exposure

Well, this is easier said than done. People love sharing their lives on Facebook and they love collecting the likes of those posts. However, those same people cry when their data or photos are being shared or collected by third-party apps and used to target them. It’s like, you place a cat in the rat house and then want it to turn vegan after that. If Facebook is at fault for sharing your data, you are at fault too for oversharing your data and your likes and your dislikes. 

Like a cherry on the cake, no user ever reads the user agreement before signing on Facebook. During a recent Senate hearing in the US, a senator slammed Mark Zuckerberg and said that the user agreement of Facebook sucks.  A quick glance through the user agreement reveals the following. 

a) Your IP goes for a toss when you use Facebook. 

b) You give the advertisers on Facebook to use your content.


If you read the data policy of Facebook, it reveals what all kinds of information it collects. Link - https://www.facebook.com/about/privacy/



So the best bet is, if you share less, it collects less.

If you would want to check if your data/ info was shared in the recent data misuse by Cambridge Analytica, you can log on to Facebook using this link and check if you were a victim or not. ( https://www.facebook.com/help/1873665312923476?helpref=search&sr=1&query=cambridge)

All you need to do is log in to your account and the company will let you know if your data may have been part of the data set the research firm got its hands on.

The data was collected via a third-party app called “This is your digital life” that was created by a university professor to collect information from people who signed into the app using their Facebook account.

But even if you never used that app, your data still could have been part of the Cambridge Analytica data set. That’s because of the way Facebook’s developer settings used to work. Facebook previously allowed developers to collect personal information from people who signed into their app with a Facebook account, but also let those developers collect data from that original user’s Facebook friends.

Protect Yourself.

Articles on WikiHow (https://www.wikihow.com/Protect-Yourself-on-Facebook) explain to you how to be safe on Facebook by tweaking the privacy and other user settings. Another article on PC Mag shows what all can you do to protect yourself on Facebook. 

Remember, even after the data misuse by Cambridge Analytica, things will not change on Facebook. It was, is and will be using your data forever. Facebook cannot and will not suddenly stop mining your data. In fact, this FaceGate scandal may act as a blessing in disguise for Facebook. Third-party apps will be under intense scrutiny to use your data and hence the owner or the negotiator of what to sell and whom to sell will solely be controlled by Facebook, thereby giving it more power to negotiate better pricing terms with advertisers.

In the end, it is up to you as to how you would like to take control of your data. You can either close your eyes and pretend as if nothing happened or take charge and think before what you share on Facebook.

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