The hashtag #DeleteFacebook has been making the rounds on Twitter this week, after reports surfaced that the tech firm Cambridge Analytical took the information of over 50 million people on the website without their knowledge, allegedly using the data to help get Donald Trump elected.
According to the report, the information was harvested by a third party through a personality quiz that granted access to users' — and their friends' — Facebook data. That data was then sold to Cambridge Analytica who used the information to build psychological profiles of voters and allegedly target them with content intended to influence the U.S. election.
But that's not all. On Monday, Channel 4 released an undercover investigative video which showed executives at Cambridge Analytica boasting that they had influenced elections around the world and suggesting that they could use sex workers, bribes and fake news to gain votes for candidates. While Cambridge Analytica acknowledges the executives did say these things, it claims that they had no intention of actually carrying out what was discussed.
But what does this all mean for you? How does the Cambridge Analytica scandal impact Facebook? And should you delete Facebook? Let us break it down below.
Why is Facebook being blamed?
Facebook has come under fire for not protecting its users' information from companies like Cambridge Analytica, and not doing more when it knew about the data misuse.
To be clear, Cambridge Analytica didn't hack Facebook to get this data. The company was able to get millions of users' information — without their permission — because of a loophole in Facebook's API. This loophole made it possible for third-party app developers to collect data not only on those who used the app, but also on their Facebook friends. Under Facebook's guidelines, that data wasn't allowed be sold or used for marketing, but obviously, that rule was violated.
Cambridge Analytica was gathering data between 2013 and 2015. In 2015, Facebook found out about the misuse of the data, it removed the app, altered the API loophole that caused the misuse, and demanded the data be destroyed — something which it says didn't happen. However, it didn't inform the public or let individual users know that their data had been taken.
Facebook has previously been criticized for not doing enough to stem the flow of fake news on its platform, which has been linked to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. This, combined with the data misuse and Facebook's pivotal role during the election, has caused many users to turn against the platform, deleting their own accounts and encouraging others to do similar.
What about Whatsapp and Instagram?
Whatsapp and Instagram are owned by Facebook, so does that mean you should delete those apps too?
Facebook shares information with both apps, so what data you provide to Instagram or Whatsapp can make its way to Facebook's database. However, neither Whatsapp or Instagram have been accused of gathering user information in the same way as Facebook, and neither have they been linked to the Cambridge Analytica controversy.
Even one of the founders of Whatsapp, Brian Acton, has called for users to delete Facebook. Acton sold Whatsapp to Facebook in 2014 but remained at the company until earlier this year when he left to start a foundation. While it's unclear what Acton thinks about Whatsapp, last year he invested $50 million into Signal, an independent rival to the messaging app.
That said, it's not just Facebook that has ethical problems with using personal data. As a spokesperson for Privacy International told the BBC, "your data is being exploited all the time," and Facebook isn't the only culprit.
As many on Twitter have pointed out, with current restrictions on how companies can gather and use your information, as long as you're online — your data privacy is at risk.
Is there a way to protect your privacy on Facebook?
It's possible to change your Facebook privacy settings to opt out of sharing your data with Facebook's API (Application Programming Interface), which will stop Facebook from sharing your information with other apps. This means you won't be able to cross-post from apps like Twitter and Instagram, and you won't be able to use your Facebook account to log in to third-party sites and apps like Tinder.
To opt out of the API, go to Facebook's App Setting page, click the "edit" button under "Apps, Web sites and Plugins" and then click "Disable Platform." This will disable all third-party sites on Facebook.
If you still want to use third-party sites on Facebook, you can limit what information is available to them. Go to the App Setting page and untick every category you don't want the app to have access to. The options include your biography, birthday, family, religious views, your online status, posts on your timeline, and activities and interests.
How to actually delete Facebook
Facebook makes it slightly complicated to permanently delete your account. In the settings, you can deactivate your account, but Facebook will still retain your data and you can easily reactivate your account.
To permanently delete your Facebook account, you need to click here and click the "Delete My Account" button. Once that's done, don't try to log into Facebook, as the company takes a few days to process deletion requests (if you log in, your request will be canceled). Facebook can take up to 90 days to delete your data, but your information (and account) won't be accessible during this period.
Before you delete your account, you can download all your personal information, which includes your photos, your messages, and status updates. You can see a full list of what information Facebook collects on you here. To download it, go to settings and click “Download a copy of your Facebook data” at the bottom of General Account Settings, then click “Start my archive.”
In other tech news, Apple is reportedly revealing iPhone X Plus in September.