This is the question that many of us are asking ourselves in light of recent events. The revelation that Cambridge Analytica, an upstart voter-profiling company, improperly accessed, stored and potentially misused data from millions of Facebook profiles without user consent has left many feeling confused, angry and insecure. The hashtag #deletefacebook was rampant on Twitter after the news broke. But is deleting facebook an effective and appropriate response to this data leak? Let’s discuss.
Facebook is facing criticism for not adequately or reasonably protecting user information and for failing to respond more effectively when they learned about the breach. Here’s what happened:
In 2014 and 2015, Cambridge Analytica harvested and stored private information from the Facebook accounts of more than 50 million users. They accomplished this through a loophole in Facebook Application Programming Interface (API), which allowed Cambridge Analytica to access the data of third party app users (who had granted permission) but also the data of all the friends of those users (who had not granted permission). They reportedly paid for this information through a third party organization that claimed to be gathering it for academic purposes. Cambridge Analytica then allegedly used the information to build voter profiles and influence voter behavior in the U.S. election.
Facebook did not adequately protect users from this data leak. When Facebook discovered the violation of their policy in 2015, they removed the app, altered the API loophole and demanded that Cambridge Analytica destroy the data—something that apparently never happened. However, Facebook failed to inform the general public and Facebook users about this massive breach of personal information at the time.
If you feel betrayed by the Facebook breach and would prefer to disassociate yourself from the company, you can do so by permanently deleting your Facebook profile. Please note, “deactivating” your profile is not the same as “deleting” it. Deactivation is temporary, can be reversed and simply makes your profile invisible to others without deleting your personal data. Think of it as a trial run for for actual deletion. If you would like to commit to permanently deleting your profile, click here, and then click the “Delete My Account” button. Once your request has been processed, do not attempt to log back in—this will cancel the request. The full process will take Facebook up to 90 days.
If you would like to download your personal information before permanently deleting your account, go to General Account Settings and click “Download a copy of your Facebook data” at the bottom. Then click “Start my archive.”
It’s important to note, however, that deleting your profile would more likely be an act of personal protest for some peace of mind rather than a completely effective way to protect your data. Whatsapp and Instagram are both owned by Facebook and share information with Facebook, so in order to truly remove yourself from the company you would need to delete those apps as well. However, neither Whatsapp nor Instagram has been accused of the misconduct and controversy that Facebook has. That said, other companies are perfectly capable of exploiting your data, and as long as you are online, your privacy could be at risk. The best guard against this kind of exploitation would be more effective legislative restrictions on such companies.
Changing Your Privacy Settings
If you are concerned about the security of your personal information but are unwilling or unable to leave Facebook permanently, there are some less drastic steps you can take. Cambridge Analytica accessed data using a third party app. When you use your Facebook account to conveniently login to such apps without a separate username and password, it can be unclear how much personal information you are sharing with those companies.
To prevent this, you can change your Facebook privacy settings to stop sharing information with other apps. To opt out of Facebook’s API, go to the App and Websites Settings, click the “Edit” button under “Apps, Websites and Games” and then click “Disable Platform.” This will disable all third-party sites on Facebook, and you will no longer be able to cross-post or login with your Facebook account on those apps. You can also be more particular and limit the information that apps can access.
If nothing else, this data leak has raised public awareness about personal privacy issues on social media. No matter what you choose to do with your Facebook profile and personal information, stay informed and be proactive regarding your personal security online.