There's been a lot of information of late floating around about Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm hired by the 2016 Trump campaign, that reportedly
mined private Facebook data from over 80 million users to predict their voting behaviors, making it easier for Team Trump to target people with campaign ads. The scandal's a huge deal, in part because it's called attention to the amount of information Facebook both collects and shares with researchers, and on Monday Facebook will begin alerting users as to whether or not Cambridge Analytica mined their data. So how do you find out if your Facebook data was harvested — and if it was, what do you do?
First and foremost, know that the Cambridge Analytica scandal wasn't actually a data
breach — as the New York Times explains, Facebook regularly shares users' data for research purposes, which users agree to when they make a Facebook account. Of course, since so many of us made Facebook accounts over a decade ago, and didn't realize "liking" NYT columnist Gail Collins's page in 2008 may one day aid the star of The Apprentice in taking political office, Facebook's excuse seems a little unfair. On the other hand, Cambridge Analytica did thwart Facebook's authority, since you're not supposed to sell or transfer Facebook users' data to companies making ads, which Aleksandr Kogan, a professor at Cambridge University who teamed up with Cambridge Analytica, ended up doing.
Here's how to find out if your data was mined:
Check Your Facebook News Feed
Facebook says starting at 9 a.m. PT (noon Eastern Time) on Monday, Facebook users will see a note at the top of their Facebook News Feeds with a link to any apps they've used.
The message will reportedly read: We have banned the website ‘This Is Your Digital Life,’ which one of your friends used Facebook to log into. We did this because the website may have misused some of your Facebook information by sharing it with a company called Cambridge Analytica. Delete The Apps
Should the Facebook message on your News Feed merely direct you to the apps you've logged over the years, Facebook will implore you to click the link, scroll through the apps, and delete them, should you want to protect your data in the future. You can also see what information the apps have used over time, so you can decide what's worth keeping and what's putting you at too much risk. Note that these apps include any personality quizzes you've taken, games you've played, or stickers you've sent — and if, like me, you've had a Facebook since 2006, there's a lot about you living inside that website.
It's also noteworthy that it's not just Cambridge Analytica that's accused of improperly harvesting data. Facebook recently suspended data analytics firm CubeYou, after the company
suspected the firm was using personality quizzes to sell targeted ads. Read The Facebook Message Carefully
If your information wasn't mined by Cambridge Analytica, the Facebook message on your News Feed won't do more than tell you to peruse and potentially delete some of your apps. But if it
was mined — and, according to Gizmodo, there's a very good chance that's the case, since the breach was predicated on whether you or one of your friends used a compromised app — the News Feed message will tell you which app shared your information with Cambridge Analytica and provide you with a link to see how you're affected. Now What?
At this point, if Cambridge Analytica mined your data, there's not much you can do other than to ensure something like that doesn't happen again. Facebook will still show you the apps you've downloaded that are still storing your data and what information they have, so
you can delete or keep the apps according to your own preferences.
Another thing you can do is delete Facebook altogether, which has been gaining popularity thanks to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Though it might be hard to get rid of something as entrenched in your daily life as Facebook (or to download all 10,000 of your college dorm photos), it's a surefire way to protect your data in the future.