By Lefteris Chelioudakis

The Cambridge Analytica case (CA) started being discussed in March 2018 and illustrated how the personal data you share on Facebook can be used by advertising companies and data brokers to manipulate your choices as a consumer, but also as a voter.

This article is not a commentary on the CA case. On the contrary, our goal is to help you adjust your Facebook settings to raise your control on the personal data you share. Before we present to you the simple steps you must follow, we will shortly describe the facts of this case. in 2014, Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, then researcher in the Psychology Department of Cambridge University, created a psychometric test for Facebook users for academic purposes.

Subsequently, this test was converted and used for commercial purposes by Dr. Kogan’s company Global Science Research (GSR). One of the companies which worked with GSR was Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), parent company of CA. Through this test, CA managed to gain access to more than 50 million profiles of Americans other Facebook users. This access was granted by the users themselves or by their Facebook friends. Every time that a Facebook user chose to do the impugned test, the test requested access to personal data the user shared on Facebook, as well as personal data his/her friends had publicly shared. In this way, if I had given my consent to do the test, I would have shared with the company which had created the test all the personal data it requested, including the public profile of my friends.

In this manner, CA managed to classify all the users, who had granted their consent, as well as their Facebook friends, based on their psychological profiles. This knowledge was used by CA as a basis for sending targeted political messages to the users in question, which influenced their choices during the US presidential elections in 2016, and possibly during the Brexit referendum during the same year.

Leaving the CA case aside, today, all the well-known social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., use the so-called “Application Programming Interface” (API). Using interface tools, various applications can share your personal data, subsequent to you granting your consent, in order to offer to you services and products. Thus, you can permit to other applications to interact with your Facebook account and share with them your profile information, such as your friends list, your date of birth, your timeline posts, the place you live in, your education and working experience, etc.

It is quite likely that at some point you gave your consent for gaming applications, quiz or test applications or other types of applications to have access to your personal data. At that point you might not have been cautious regarding the content you would be sharing with these platforms. For instance, why should a quiz which will offer you several moments of laugh, have unlimited access to your profile photos, the place you work in or you live in, your friends list or your interests? Did you consider which data broker company might be behind this “innocent” test and for which purposes it will use your data in the future?

In order for you to reconsider the choices you made in the past, you must visit the Settings page of the platform you are using.

Furthermore, you must be very cautious regarding all the applications, which ask you to type the word “BFF” or other such words to check if your account is secure or not. These publications do not aim at nothing else but the pages, which host them, to get more popular, through the comments, likes and shares. The acronym “BFF” refers to the term “Best Friends Forever” and is accompanied by vivid colours, simply because it constitutes one of the keywords, which Facebook has chosen to accompany with graphics.

You can find more keywords like this in this link.

If you wish to learn more on whether your personal data have been used by CA through your Facebook account, you can visit the following section created by Facebook here.

In any case, before you decide to use a social media platform or share your personal data with other applications, you must always read carefully their privacy policies. In this way, you will be able to get informed on how, with who and for how long will your personal data be used. These privacy policies are required not to be extensive or illegible and are also required to explain with simple words what is happening with your personal data.

So, next time, before you start using a platform, devote some minutes of your time to learn what will you be sharing with this platform and under which terms and conditions.