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What Facebook’s Privacy Policy Allows May Surprise You

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The social media app is in news for all the wrong reasons lately. VOA
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To get an idea of the data Facebook collects about you, just ask for it. You’ll get a file with every photo and comment you’ve posted, all the ads you’ve clicked on, stuff you’ve liked and searched for and everyone you’ve friended — and unfriended — over the years.

Now, the company is under fire for collecting data on people’s phone calls and text messages if they used Android devices. While Facebook insists users had to specifically agree, or opt in, to have such data collected, at least some users appeared surprised.

Facebook’s trove of data is used to decide which ads to show you. It also makes using Facebook more seamless and enjoyable — say, by determining which posts to emphasize in your feed, or reminding you of friends’ birthdays.

Facebook’s privacy practices have come under fire after a Trump-affiliated political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, got data inappropriately from millions of Facebook users. While past privacy debacles have centered on what marketers gather on users, the stakes are higher this time because the firm is alleged to have created psychological profiles to influence how people vote or even think about politics and society.

ALSO READ: Ten Hilarious Facebook Memes Cover Photos that will Make You Laugh Out Loud

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Facebook claims to protect all this information, and it lays out its terms in a privacy policy that’s relatively clear and concise. But few users bother to read it. You might be surprised at what Facebook’s privacy policy allows — and what’s left unsaid. Pixabay

Facebook defends its data collection and sharing activities by noting that it’s adhering to a privacy policy it shares with users. Thanks largely to years of privacy scandals and pressure from users and regulators, Facebook also offers a complex set of controls that let users limit how their information is used — to a point.

You can turn off ad targeting and see generic ads instead, the way you would on television or in a newspaper. In the ad settings, you’d need to uncheck all your interests, interactions with companies and websites and other personal information you don’t want to use in targeting. Of course, if you click on a new interest after this, you’ll have to go back and uncheck it in your ad preferences to prevent targeting. It’s a tedious task.

As Facebook explains, it puts you in target categories based on your activity. So, if you are 35, live in Seattle and have liked an outdoor adventure page, Facebook may show you an ad for a mountain bike shop in your area.

But activity isn’t limited to pages or posts you like, comments you make and your use of outside apps and websites.

“If you start typing something and change your mind and delete it, Facebook keeps those and analyzes them too,” Zeynep Tufekci, a prominent techno-sociologist, said in a 2017 TED talk.

And, increasingly, the social media site tries to match what it knows about you with your offline data, purchased from data brokers or gathered in other ways. The more information it has, the fuller the picture of you it can offer to advertisers. It can infer things about you that you had no intention of sharing — anything from your ethnicity to personality traits, happiness and use of addictive substances, Tufekci said.

These types of data collection aren’t necessarily explicit in privacy policies or settings.

Apps can also collect a lot of data about you, as revealed in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The firm got the data from a researcher who paid 270,000 Facebook users to complete a psychological profile quiz back in 2014. But the quiz gathered information on their friends as well, bringing the total number of people affected to about 50 million.

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What Facebook does say is that advertisers don’t get the raw data. They just tell Facebook what kind of people they want their ads to reach, then Facebook makes the matches and shows the ads. Pixabay

ALSO READ: We don’t save Android users’ data without permission: Facebook

Facebook says Cambridge Analytica got the data inappropriately — but only because the app said it collected data for research rather than political profiling. Gathering data on friends was permitted at the time, even if they had never installed the app or given explicit consent.

Ian Bogost, a Georgia Tech communications professor who built a tongue-in-cheek game called “Cow Clicker” in 2010, wrote in The Atlantic recently that abusing the Facebook platform for “deliberately nefarious ends” was easy to do then. What’s worse, he said, it was hard to avoid extracting private data.

If “you played Cow Clicker, even just once, I got enough of your personal data that, for years, I could have assembled a reasonably sophisticated profile of your interests and behavior,” he wrote. “I might still be able to; all the data is still there, stored on my private server, where Cow Clicker is still running, allowing players to keep clicking where a cow once stood.”

Facebook has since restricted the amount of types of data apps can access. But other types of data collection are still permitted. For this reason, it’s a good idea to check all the apps you’ve given permissions to over the years. You can also do this in your settings. VOA

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Facebook Fined in U.K. Over Cambridge Analytica Leak

Over the period, it emerged that Facebook had failed to ensure that Cambridge Analytica had deleted personal data harvested about millions of its members in breach of the platform's rules

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Before its collapse, Cambridge Analytica insisted it had indeed wiped the data after Facebook's erasure request in December 2015. Pixabay

UK’s data protection watchdog plans to slap a fine of 500,000 pounds ($662,501) on Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal. This is the highest permitted fine under Britain’s data protection law.

In its investigation, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found that Facebook broke British law by failing to safeguard people’s information, and by not revealing how people’s data was harvested by others.

Along with Cambridge Analytica, Facebook has been the focus of the investigation since February when evidence emerged that an app had been used to harvest the data of an estimated 87 million Facebook users across the world.

In its latest progress report, the regulator also said it intended to take criminal action against Cambridge Analytica’s defunct parent company SCL Elections, the BBC reported on Wednesday.

The regulator also said Aggregate IQ — which worked with the Vote Leave campaign — must stop processing UK citizens’ data. It has also written to UK’s 11 main political parties compelling them to have their data protection practices audited.

This, the Information Commissioner’s Office explained, was in part because it was concerned they could have bought lifestyle information about members of the public from data brokers, who might have not obtained the necessary consent.

In particular, ICO raised concern about one data broker: Emma’s Diary. The firm offers medical advice to pregnant women and gift packs after babies are born.

Facebook mobile app
Facebook mobile app. Pixabay

ICO said it was concerned about how transparent the firm had been about its political activities. The Labour Party had confirmed using the firm, but did not provide other details at this point beyond saying it intended to take some form of regulatory action.

The service’s owner Lifecycle Marketing could not be reached for comment. But it has told the Guardian that it does not agree with the ICO’s findings.

The ICO’s action comes 16 months after it began the ongoing probe into political campaigns’ use of personal data during the Brexit referendum campaign.

Over the period, it emerged that Facebook had failed to ensure that Cambridge Analytica had deleted personal data harvested about millions of its members in breach of the platform’s rules.

Also Read: Facebook’s Helicopter Drone Project Got Grounded: Report

Before its collapse, Cambridge Analytica insisted it had indeed wiped the data after Facebook’s erasure request in December 2015.

But ICO said it had seen evidence that copies of the data had been shared with others.

“This potentially brings into question the accuracy of the deletion certificates provided to Facebook,” it said. (IANS)