The Cambridge Analytica affair is making the social network totter. Which strategy to adopt following these revelations: delete one’s account, demand one’s data, switch to free?
We knew there was trouble at Facebook. But that’s the limit! Since The Guardian, The Observer and The New York Times revealed the more than dubious practices carried out by the company Cambridge Analytica, the temptation to remove Facebook seems as big as ever in the community counting more than 2 billion friends.
Mea culpa on an ad page
Stay tuned. On March 17, the British daily newspaper The Guardian published a series of articles, “The Cambridge Analytica files”. It revealed, with support from whistle-blowers, that Cambridge Analytica, the company that worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the US, had collected Facebook data from more than 50 million profiles. All that via an application presented as a quiz that siphoned data from its users and their friends without their knowledge.
Two days later, the British TV channel Channel 4 revealed it had interviewed an executive from Cambridge Analytica who assured having resorted to blackmail and frame-ups to tip the balance of the American elections. On March 24, another whistle-blower assured that the company worked on the Brexit campaign and would have had a “crucial role” on the referendum. It comes as an evidence that Facebook granted access to our data to thousands of developers without keeping control, or even an eye, on what they did with it afterwards. Anyway. No more “nothing to hide”, the whole world is realizing that our most private data is out there and used quite inappropriately. Not just to sell us yogurt pots but also to change the course of a democratic election…
At Facebook, that these revelations are tarnishing economically, Mark Zuckerberg is compelled to step out of his usual high degree of discretion. On Facebook first. Then on CNN. And by buying an ad page in the main British and American newspapers to finally print his apologies. “We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it,” confesses the entrepreneur with more than 40 billion dollars in turnover.
Not sure this will be enough. The #DeleteFacebook movement is spreading with high-flying support (Elon Musk removed the SpaceX and Tesla Facebook pages) and sometimes unexpected support (Brian Acton, founder of WhatsApp, Facebook property since 2014). Difficult in fact to know how many people took the plunge. “I don’t think we’ve seen a meaningful number of people act on the #DeleteFacebook campaign, but you know, it’s not good,” admitted “Zuck” in The New York Times.
The damage is done… The attention of the greater public is suddenly drawn to these alternatives to Gafam and a centralized Web, proprietary and based on the massive grabbing (and reselling) of data. This is a good thing, ideas are here that were only waiting for you/us to become new mass uses! Attempt to give sense to all this mess.
Worth reading back over Facebook’s promises 8 years ago, specifically these.
Of course they were lying. Their business model demands they violate these promises. If you keep using Facebook now, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself. #deletefacebook https://t.co/AT2GRgH4CR pic.twitter.com/hD437gNYsh
— Kevin Smith (@_KevinSmith) March 25, 2018
1 – Realizing the extent of the damage (or the tip of the iceberg)
In a break-up, the first stage is awareness (or something like that, according to women’s magazines). Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, one can see the appearance of invitations to download our data, just to see. Beware, it takes up space.
It is a rather simple affair. You just need to go on Facebook, go to general parameters of the account. Then, download a copy, bottom left.
You then receive files, several Mb of which to keep the totality of your exchanges on Messenger. The “publicity” page is also worth seeing. It shows the ads that you consulted and the advertisers that have your contact details. The “personal history” part, accessible just above “parameters” traces all our interactions, likes, comments, pokes since our registration on Facebook.
However, at first sight, it isn’t all that much. One has to say that at Makery, we are used to having a bit of a scare—like with Albertine Meunier’s tool (article in French), that allows us to extract our search history on the Google motor. You can also try on Google Map: the stunning effect is guaranteed.
This “isn’t all that much” is in fact a real problem, notes Olivier Auber, French artist and researcher specialist in social networks. Impossible to recover via Facebook the links included in your posts, saved links, or even discussions in comments. “This discovery really did trouble me,” says the researcher who left the network from 2007 to 2011 and explains his approach on his blog. Among researchers, we have made a habit of discussing things on Facebook. It’s an essential part of our activity.” If you keep your documentation on Facebook, you lose your work by leaving the network, concludes the researcher.
Especially as Facebook probably has much more than it is willing to give us. In 2010, a law student asked to get his data. Facebook was “dumb enough” to answer positively and send a 1,200 page pdf.
2 – Make Facebook pay (or the opposite?)
Since our data has value, Facebook will cough up the money. And if administration gives you a headache, don’t panic, Olivier Auber prepared the bill, you only have to fill it in. The researcher calculated $350,000, having spent on average two hours a day on Facebook for seven years, more than half of those for professional reasons.
For Auber, #MyFacebookbill is a way of drawing attention to Digital Labor, a notion popularized by Antonio Casilli and Dominique Cardon with their book Qu’est-ce que le digital labor ? (What is Digital labor?) and that targets all the micro-tasks carried out on Internet for free (like entering captchas serving for book digitalization by Google) or for very low pay (like Amazon Mechanical Turk).
Olivier Auber does not really think that we should make Gafam pay for our data. The idea was in fact at the center of a fierce debate at the beginning of the year following the call from a collective, including the former manager of the Medef (French employers’ union) or the writer Alexandre Jardin, to monetize our data. But selling it is already accepting that it serves market-orientated objectives. “Facebook has no legitimacy in managing conversation and collective memory. It is therefore the wrong solution to sell them our data,” reckons the researcher.
Do we need do dig into our own pockets? It’s the exaggerated solution adopted by Louis Barclay. In September 2017, this entrepreneur launched Nudge, an application allowing you to “un-follow” the totality of pages and people on Facebook and obtain an empty “feed” (since no more content = no more advertisement). To seek forgiveness, he sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg with a $20 compensation payment.
3 – Analyze one’s data
Following the revelations on Cambridge Analytica, Dylan McKay also downloaded his data. And discovered: “There is the whole history of my calls to my partner’s mother.”
Downloaded my facebook data as a ZIP file
Somehow it has my entire call history with my partner's mum pic.twitter.com/CIRUguf4vD
— Dylan McKay (@dylanmckaynz) March 21, 2018
The practice, widespread, was known: to make friend recommendations, Facebook uses our phone contacts. (Without doubt worse, Facebook used for a while the localization of your phone for these famous recommendations…)
In order to check if your metadata has been kept by Facebook, go to the “contact” tab of your downloaded file. If you wish to make sense of this data, Dylan McKay wrote a script to reveal the enclosed statistics: number of calls, date and duration… You have been warned.
3bis – and regain (a little) control
You can cancel contact sharing with Facebook. To do so, visit the imported invitations and contacts page.
You can also stop your data from being transferred via the Facebook API, and thus from third-party applications gaining access. For this, we recommend you follow the guide from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, association defending civil liberties in the digital world.
Note however that once this operation has been carried out, you will no longer be able to connect to these services via your Facebook page.
4 – So, you want to leave Facebook?
You took the brave decision to leave the blue page. Well done to you. You will then need to follow several simple steps and bye bye generalized surveillance (if only…).
Posters from the artist Jeremy Deller in the streets of London this weekend:
If you happened to walk through Kings Cross or past Facebook’s London headquarters on March 21, you might have seen people passing out pink posters with instructions on “How to Leave Facebook.” Designed by Turner Prize-winning artist #JeremyDeller, the posters served as a response to the ongoing scandal involving Facebook and the political consulting firm #CambridgeAnalytica. (image courtesy Rapid Response Unit) #contemporaryart
A post shared by Hyperallergic (@hyperallergic) on
You will however need to be patient and persevering. Olivier Auber has been trying to leave the network since January. He already tried between 2007 and 2011, then came back in the form of a “consenting guinea pig a tad rebellious” to document the beast from the inside. This time round, he saw enough and decided to leave again. Not without explaining his move to his many contacts, via direct message if possible. “After about two hundred, this bastard Facebook asked me to type a captcha at each message,” he explains on his blog. “Now it acts as if I were blocked for DMs, even with people with whom I have had recent conversations… I am telling you my dear guinea pigs, your friends do not belong to you…” In any case, Olivier will not leave before Facebook before it gives him back all his data “and they should be exploitable on the platform of my choice.”
The hashtag #DeleteFacebook drew tens of thousands of mentions throughout the world. Which does not mean that everyone who used it will leave Facebook. There are even voices reminding you that leaving Facebook is a luxury that not everyone can afford.
5 – A new host for our chats
Yet, alternative networks have been developing for several years. Just over a year ago, we told you about Internet degooglization (in French), an initiative from the association Framasoft, a network dedicated to globally promoting the Free, consisting in offering free alternatives to the popular tools of the Web. Open source supporters prefer to use the Diaspora network and in particular on the node Framasphere. The most prudent (and wise) will follow the Snowden method. We explained to you how it allowed you to secure your data.
We will also mention Mastodon, free and decentralized alternative to Twitter, that has been registering four times more new users since the Cambridge Analytica revelations, according to its creator Eugen Rochko. The service, created in April 2017, now counts 1.1 million users.
There are also more glamorous alternatives (sorry, dear free supporters, normcore esthetics is not for everyone), like Ello, announced in 2014 as a “Facebook killer” and that finally found its place as a sharing platform for creative projects. Or even Seenthis, a French micro-blogging platform with open source code.
6 – Are we ready for a new model?
There’ll be fun and games. If the blue page is in turmoil, the whole Facebook ecosystem could be affected with Instagram in the front line (acquired for about 1 billion dollars in 2012) and WhatsApp (acquired for 19 billion dollars in 2014)…
Facebook isn’t the only one to have dipped its hand in the honey jar of data. On March 22, four members of the French association la Quadrature du Net lodged a complaint against their mobile phone operators (Free Mobile, Orange, Bouygues Telecom, SFR). They had asked for access to their stored personal data but only received incomplete answers, were turned down flat, or even got no response. Data conservation is a “legal obligation” gladly reminds the CEO of Orange Stéphane Richard, denying doing like Facebook.
Could Europe be the answer? In May 2017 a consortium of fourteen European partners, including Arduino, the CNRS (French national center for scientific research), and the city of Amsterdam, with at its head a prestigious advisory council (the writer Evgeny Mozorov, Andy Müller-Maguhn member of the Chaos Computer Club…), launched Decode, a European project to allow citizens to take control of their data and chose to keep it private or to share it for the public good.
More information: find all the articles of “The Guardian” on the subject; discover this simple guide for (relatively) sound navigation; and read this article from “Motherboard” explaining why Cambridge Analytica is far worse than a flaw