Was My Facebook Data Compromised?

Roughly 87 million people had their Facebook data stolen by the political research firm Cambridge Analytica. 

On April 10 and 11 Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress. The reviews were mixed. Some said he was robotic and evasive. I thought he did a good job in the face of some ignorant questions by people who clearly don't understand Facebook, social media or modern technology - and even mispronounced Zuckerberg's name several different ways.

The day before the hearings Facebook finally notified the people who had their information grabbed by Cambridge Analytica. It is supposed to be about 70 million Americans and other users in the UK, Indonesia, and the Philippines. 

I saw the notification at the top of my Facebook newsfeed when I logged in. There was also a button for changing my privacy settings. Probably everyone, even if your information wasn’t captured and used by Cambridge Analytica, you should check and tighten up those settings.

How can you tell if your data was shared with Cambridge Analytica? Here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/help/1873665312923476 

What did Facebook tell me? 

"Based on our investigation, you don't appear to have logged into "This Is Your Digital Life" with Facebook before we removed it from our platform in 2015. However, a friend of yours did log in. As a result, the following information was likely shared with "This Is Your Digital Life": Your public profile, Page likes, birthday and current city. A small number of people who logged into "This Is Your Digital Life" also shared their own News Feed, timeline, posts and messages which may have included posts and messages from you. They may also have shared your hometown."

One of the questions that Zuckerberg was asked was about the fact that Cambridge Analytica wasn’t the only company that was misusing Facebook data. The company suspended at least two more research companies before the hearings: CubeYou was also misusing data from personality quizzes, along with AggregateIQ. 

After a rash of people saying they were quitting Facebook and the stock taking a hit, during the hearings the stock rebounded and I am seeing less talk about quitting. Though there are plenty of social networks, none has all the features of Facebook and has been able to hold a large user base. One Senator asked if Facebook is a monopoly. Zuckerberg said No, but was unable to really give an example of a major competitor. Yes, they overlap with networks like Twitter and their own Instagram, but no one really does it all.

Zuckerberg made the point repeatedly that Facebook has already made many positive changes since the Cambridge Analytica breach an is still doing them now ahead of any possible regulation by Congress. Are all the issues corrected? No. Are things better with Facebook and privacy? Yes. Will it or some competitor ever be the perfect social network? No way.

Analyzing Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and You

The Cambridge Analytica scandal involving Facebook hit this month because of its involvement in the election of Donald Trump in 2016. The company used an app developed legitimately by a Cambridge University researcher, Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, as a personality survey called "This is Your Digital Life."

I recall learning about that app about 3 years ago in a presentation at an EdTech conference. By using it as a quiz on Facebook, about 270,000 users gave permission (because most people are unaware of the access they allow) to their data which was collected but then used to additionally collect some public data from their friends.

I suspect a majority of social media users are unaware of how their data is used, and what permissions they have granted (perhaps by default in some instances).

Have you ever used your Facebook login as a way to sign in to another website or app? It asks you if you want to login using your Facebook ID and that seems to save a step or two and is great if you forgot your actual login to that other site. 

When those Facebook users took the "This is your digital life" quiz using their Facebook login, they allowed that app's developer to tap into all of the information in their Facebook profile (that includes your name, where you live, email address and friends list).  [Note: Currently, apps are no longer permitted to collect data from your Facebook friends.]

I don't give Dr. Kogan, Cambridge Analytica or Facebook a pass on this activity even if users did opt in. Kogan shared it with Cambridge Analytica which Facebook says that was against its policy. Facebook says it asked Cambridge Analytica to delete all of the data back in 2015. Facebook also claims that it only recently found out that wasn't done.

A lot of people seem to have given up on privacy, accepting it as something we just can't control any more. But there is a lot you can and should do.

settings

For example, a very simple change to make in your Facebook privacy settings is to "Limit The Audience for Old Posts on Your Timeline." That means that posts on your timeline that you've shared with Friends of friends, and Public posts, will now be shared only with Friends. Anyone tagged in these posts, and their friends, may also still see these posts, but the public (which includes apps) will not be able to access them legitimately.

Facebook's API, called Platform, allows third-party apps and websites to integrate with your Facebook account and exchange data with them via developer tools. It can be convenient for users, such as decreasing the number of login/password combinations you need to remember, but it has potential for abuse.

When you use the "Log in With Facebook" feature on a site, you grant a third-party app or service access to your Facebook account. It will ask for permission to receive specific Facebook data from you - email address, birthdate, gender, public posts, likes and also things beyond your basic profile info. I have seen cases where when I deny access to some information, it tells me the app can't be loaded. That is a warning. But some legitimate apps, like the scheduling apps Hootsuite and Buffer, do need a lot of permissions in order to allow them to post as you on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. In these cases, by using the app I need to trust that developer and the service it is connecting to via an API.

Being educated about how technology works and knowing how you can protect your own data and privacy is more important than ever. And, of course, you can always not use a service that doesn't seem to help you do that.

Your Social Credit Score

data wave

You don't have a social credit score today, but you might in the near future.

I have been thinking a lot about this topic since first hearing of a Social Credit System proposed by the Chinese government that is starting to take shape. It is essentially a national reputation system with the intent to assign a "social credit" rating to every citizen based on government data regarding their economic and social status.

If it sounds more like a science-fiction horror story of the future, that was what I thought at first. It reminded me of a 2016 episode of the science fiction anthology series Black Mirror shown on Netflix. In that episode ("Nosedive"), people can rate each other from one to five stars for every interaction they have, and the protagonist is someone obsessed with her ratings. When her rating drops, she panics and goes on a campaign to bring her score back up.

A Chinese app called Alipay is already assigning users a three-digit score. "Zhima Credit" rates you from 350-950 based on finances and and other factors. 

Reputation systems are not brand new ideas. They are programs that allow users to rate each other in online communities in order to build trust through reputation. You already have a reputation score if you use E-commerce websites such as eBay, Amazon.com, and Etsy or online advice communities such as Stack Exchange. Reputation systems are a trend in decision support for Internet mediated services such as shopping and advice.

A variation is collaborative filtering which aims to find similarities between users in order to recommend products to customers.

The Social Credit System proposed by the Chinese government is meant to rate every citizen based on government data regarding their economic and social status.  Does that sound like a mass surveillance tool using big data analysis technology? Well, it is.

On the surface, it is a way to rate businesses operating in the Chinese market. This can be called "surveillance capitalism," a term (introduced by John Bellamy Foster and Robert McChesney) that denotes a new genus of capitalism that monetizes data acquired through surveillance.

The idea was popularized by Shoshana Zuboff who says it emerged due to the "coupling of the vast powers of the digital with the radical indifference and intrinsic narcissism of the financial capitalism and its neoliberal vision that have dominated commerce for at least three decades, especially in the Anglo economies."

It is a new new expression of power she calls "Big Other" which makes me think of a new novel plot combining Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, in the Internet Information Age. She feels the concept was first discovered and consolidated at Google, who are to surveillance capitalism what Ford and General Motors were to mass-production and managerial capitalism a century ago.

Facebook and others have since adopted the concept for ways to extract, commodify and control behavior to produce new markets of behavioral prediction and modification.

The Chinese government's "Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System (2014–2020)" focused on four areas: honesty in government affairs, commercial integrity, societal integrity and judicial credibility. The rating of individual citizens is considered to be "societal integrity."

One news story I heard said that you can gain or lose points for how well you separate and recycle your trash. It was unclear how this is monitored - trash collectors, your neighbors, credit police? Eight companies were picked by the People's Bank of China in 2016 to develop pilots to give citizens credit scores, including the giant Alibaba Ant Financial Services, which operates Sesame Credit. Ant Financial CEO Lucy Peng has said in a frightening quote I can use in that new novel that Zhima Credit “will ensure that the bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction.”

Her is hoping that you will be able to move freely and without obstruction in the future.

Event-Based Internet

Event-based Internet is going to be something you will hear more about this year. Though I had heard the term used, the first real application of it that I experienced was a game. But don't think this is all about fun and games. Look online and you will find examples of event-based Internet biosurveillance and event-based Internet robot teleoperation systems and other very sophisticated uses, especially connected to the Internet of Things (IoT).

HQWhat did more than a million people do this past Sunday night at 9pm ET? They tuned in on their mobile devices to HQ Trivia, a game show, on their phones.  

For a few generations that have become used to time-shifting their viewing, this real-time game is a switch. 

The HQ app has had early issues in scaling to the big numbers with game delays, video lag and times when the game just had to be rebooted. But it already has at least one imitator called "The Q" which looks almost identical in design, and imitation is supposed to be a form of flattery.

This 12-question trivia quiz has money prizes. Usually, the prize is $2000, but sometimes it jumps to $10 or $20K. But since there are multiple survivors of the 12 questions that win, the prizes are often less than $25 each.

Still, I see the show's potential (Is it actually a "show?") Business model? Sponsors, commercial breaks, sponsors and product placement in the questions, answers and banter in-between questions.

The bigger trend here is that this is a return to TV "appointment viewing."  Advertisers like that and it only really occurs these days with sports, some news and award shows. (HQ pulled in its first audience of more than a million Sunday during the Golden Globe Awards, so...) 

And is there some education connection in all this?  Event-based Internet, like its TV equivalent, is engaging. Could it bring back "The Disconnected" learner?  

I found a NASA report on "Lessons Learned from Real-Time, Event-Based Internet Science Communications."  This report is focused on sharing science activities in real-time in order to involve and engage students and the public about science.

Event-based distributed systems are being used in areas such as enterprise management, information dissemination, finance,
environmental monitoring and geo-spatial systems.

Education has been "event-based" for hundreds of years. But learners have been time-shifting learning via distance education and especially via online learning for only a few decades. Event-based learning sounds a bit like hybrid or blended learning. But one difference is that learners are probably not going to tune in and be engaged with just a live lecture. Will it take a real event and maybe even gamification to get live learning? 

In all my years teaching online, I have never been able to have all of a course's student attend a "live" session either because of time zone differences, work schedules or perhaps content that just wasn't compelling enough.

What will "Event-based Learning" look like?

I Doubt That We Can Blame Society's Destruction on Facebook

First I saw the headline "Man who became rich from Facebook criticizes social network for destroying how society works" and the next day I read "Facebook responds to criticism that the network is destroying how society works." Chamath Palihapitiya joined Facebook in 2007 and served as its vice president for user growth. He is "the man" in the headline with a net worth near $1 billion, and one thing he has said is “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works." Those loops include things such as the "like" button and other ways we can "engage" with content we see in our News Feed.

Since leaving Facebook, he has entered venture capital  and runs his own VC firm focusing on investing in technology, healthcare, and education. He is not adverse to still investing in social media - his firm is an investor in Slack, for example.

A video of Palihapitiya speaking at Stanford Graduate School of Business in November created a buzz online. The buzz grew louder because earlier Facebook's founding president Sean Parker had also made a comment about Facebook "exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology."

In their response, Facebook pointed out that "Chamath has not been at Facebook for over 6 years. When Chamath was at Facebook we were focused on building new social media experiences and growing Facebook around the world. Facebook was a very different company back then, and as we have grown, we have realized how our responsibilities have grown too. We take our role very seriously and we are working hard to improve. We've done a lot of work and research with outside experts and academics to understand the effects of our service on well-being, and we're using it to inform our product development."

Mark Zuckerberg said on his most recent earnings call that "We are willing to reduce our profitability to make sure the right investments are made."

Society's ills are many. Facebook has flaws. The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election content on Facebook had an impact. But so did the squawking on Twitter and every other social network and on every traditional and cable news outlet. If Facebook disappeared overnight, the problem would not be solved.