Revisiting Social Media Privacy

Recent news stories have us thinking about our online privacy. In March, it was widely reported that Facebook user data was used without permission by Cambridge Analytica, a data consultancy firm, in 2014. A third party app, developed by a researcher, collected profile information and then shared it with Cambridge Analytica against Facebook’s Terms.

So why the outrage? Because many people were not aware that they were sharing their information with the app. Here’s the scenario: a Facebook friend allowed access to a third party app. With your friend’s permission and access, this app not only gained access to his data, but also gained access to the data of all his friends’ information, possibly yours.

More than 50 million users were affected. And even at this time, years after the data was accessed, users cannot be sure if their information was included.

Many believe Facebook and other tech companies should be doing more to protect their users’ information. But, for now, it’s up to you. So, how can you protect your information going forward on Facebook? To start, take a look at a Facebook setting called “Apps Others Use.” This setting controls access by friends’ apps to your data. Even if your profile is private, your information is accessible to friends’ apps (as noted in the scenario above) unless you have checked the appropriate settings.

What to Do

To make sure your information is protected from your friends’ apps, go to Facebook’s Settings page. Click Apps. There you will see a box for Apps Others Use. Click edit.

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In the popup window, uncheck all boxes and click save.

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Until tech companies commit to stronger privacy protections, it is up to us as individuals to monitor and protect our information. Social media companies are always rolling out new algorithms and features, so consider regular (quarterly, bi-annual, or annual) privacy check-ups to make sure you are sharing only what you intend.

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