Facebook — the app that so many people open as soon as they get out of bed and often the last one they close. It’s the witness of personal triumphs and failures and the breeding ground for lengthy political debates. But it doesn’t always handle personal information as many of us feel it should and over the years, has had more than a few privacy snafu’s.
And what better a time to review those snafu’s than during the first month of a brand-new, fresh 2019? Without further adieu, here are a few of the absolute worst ways Facebook has handled private user data concerns in the past.
- The 2006 “News Feed” Debut: Remember the days when it felt like Facebook changed every week? This was one of the biggest years of change early in the platform’s life. Unfortunately, it was also a hard sell for users, who were used to their posts being private. The new news feed blasted all posts publicly by default, leaving many users posting to the world what they thought was content targeted to a very small and private group of friends. This should have been the first warning sign of things to come.
- The 2007 Targeted Ads Debacle: Just one year later, Mark Zuckerberg’s famous company created a marketing program called Beacon. Its role was to track user purchases – both on and off-site – and then display those purchases to their entire friends list. Which is great when you’re celebrating a new television; it’s not so great if you just bought hemorrhoid cream.Beacon died a quick death because, shockingly, most people don’t want the entire world to know their purchase histories or how they spend their money. If that feels a bit sarcastic, it’s only because it is.
- The FTC Gets Sick of Facebook’s Laxity: In 2011, the FTC finally got tired of Facebook’s blossoming security and privacy issues. They stepped in and cracked down on them for creating platform features that allow people to post information publicly without even realizing it. This wasn’t so much about users not understanding the features; It was more about Facebook purposefully obscuring privacy tools and info to make it harder to keep things private.The result? Facebook was forced to undergo independent privacy evaluations at two-year intervals for two decades. Yet, many of us still overlooked how many problems were developing on the site.
- The 2013 “Here’s Your Private Contact Info” Bug: In 2013, Facebook’s privacy headaches ramped up. This time, a bug in the platform displayed private user contact information to pretty much the entire world. This data included telephone numbers, addresses, names, and email addresses for several million people – all collected and displayed from the contact lists people uploaded when they joined the platform.
- The 2014 “Quit Playing With My Emotions” Social Experiment: In 2014, Facebook got a little bit weird. This event wasn’t so much about privacy problems, but it was still a violation of personal privacy nonetheless. Facebook data scientist, Adam Kramer, enacted a mass social experiment by separating users into two groups. He then tweaked news feeds for each, forcing one to display more positive posts and the other to display more negative posts. Users were not given the opportunity to opt in or out, and just didn’t even know about the “experiment.”Kramer allegedly wanted to prove how shared emotions spread on social media, but his study was unethical and questionable. Users became angry and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences came down on him hard for not getting user consent. The data was later deleted.
- The Beginning of Cambridge Analytica in 2015: Most people think Cambridge Analytica (CA) unfolded in March 2018; not so. In fact, Facebook first became aware of this and other apps harvesting data without permission in 2015. They told CA to delete their data and banned them from the platform, but they never complied. Instead, Cambridge Analytica continued to use the platform under other names and sold the data collected to a long list of questionable sources over the next three years.
Facebook did, however, alter how apps handle and store data. It made changes that limited what developers could collect and how long they could keep stored data.
- Cambridge Analytica Blows Up in 2018: In March 2018, Facebook became aware of the fact that CA just might not have politely stopped their transgressions after all. Evidence showed that CA may have even been working with foreign entities, including Russia, selling them data to help them manipulate the U.S. election. CA was also shown to be selling data to entities attempting to influence the Brexit vote in the UK.
Facebook finally took the bull by the horns, here – well, more than usual, anyway. This and the enactment of the General Data Protection Regulation in the United Kingdom forced them to put newer, stricter protections into place, including giving users the ability to delete or review their data at any time.
This was also the first time Zuckerberg fully admitted to Facebook’s fault in the matter. “I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he posted. “The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago. But we also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it.”
What You Can Do to Protect Your Account
It’s pretty clear that Facebook has a long history of failing to care about your privacy; to them, you’re just a cog in an advertising revenue wheel. While they’re improving in their ability to protect you, they still have a long way to go. So here’s what you can do to keep your account safe:
- Don’t attach your Facebook to your most-used email. Instead, make a free gmail or hotmail and use it solely for your Facebook account.
- Don’t use the same password you use on other platforms. We’ve got you covered with step-by-step instructions on hack-proofing your passwords.
- When using Facebook, don’t post or share anything you wouldn’t want your grandma to see. The plain and simple fact is that no account is truly safe; sharing credit card numbers, contact info, or financial data is extremely risky.
- Think carefully about what you read on the platform. Nearly everything is influenced by someone and a lot of what you read is fake news. Foreign propaganda outlets often focus on Facebook first over other platforms because they know privacy controls are so lax.
- Don’t install games and apps on Facebook – or if you do, carefully review their settings before you give your information. Use Facebook’s privacy tools to regularly review the information you post. Remove it every few months and start fresh.
- Not feeling comfortable? You don’t have to stay on Facebook. Many users are moving to other platforms. Reddit in particular has a growing usership of ex-Facebook members who want more freedom and privacy controls.