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Wikipedia (Maurizo Pesce)

The Facebook scandal: guidance and tips

Facebook is under attack due to the scandal with Cambridge Analytica: Data of tens of millions of users have been leaked. Does this mean the end of Facebook? ‘The storm will pass,’ says security expert Erik van der Kouwe. He provides tips on how to keep Facebook from following your every move.

The worldwide outrage is growing: Due to Facebook, personal details of 87 million people, including 90000 Dutch users, have been acquired by marketing agency Cambridge Analytica. Dutch celebrities, such as TV maker Arjen Lubach, are calling upon people to delete their accounts. Will Facebook users respond to this? Erik van der Kouwe, researcher at the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS) considers this unlikely. ‘Famous people, people who want to make a statement, are stopping using Facebook. It’s them, together with a small group of people who care about online privacy. I expect that most Facebook users are less concerned about their personal information and computer security. I think the storm will probably blow over.’

Peer pressure

‘Facebook,’ continues Van der Kouwe, ‘is a typical case of peer pressure. Many of your friends have an account and you don’t want to be left out. Only when a critical mass says their goodbyes to Facebook, will the peer pressure disappear. As far as I know, there is no alternative for the social medium yet, so I don’t expect people to delete their profiles.

Passwords are a bigger problem

The online privacy of these people is actually in danger, says Van der Kouwe, and not just by Facebook’s doing. ‘To be honest, I’m not very impressed by the scandal with Cambridge Analytica. Not that much data has been captured, but since everyone knows what Facebook is, it’s blown out of proportion by the media. A much bigger issue is that people use the same password for different sites.’

Use Facebook container

Apart from the scandal with Cambridge Analytics, Facebook is also under attack because it follows users on websites other than Facebook by means of browser cookies. Users can do something about this, says Van der Kouwe. The web browser Mozilla Firefox has an extension called ‘Facebook Container’. This extension first removes existing cookies from Facebook and as soon as you visit the website, the extension will load the social platform in a so-called ‘container.’ Everything you do outside of Facebook will then be a mystery to Facebook. ‘However,’ warns Van der Kouwe, ‘this doesn’t change anything about the data Facebook has already collected, or what you do within the social medium container.’

Download a Facebook wrapper

For mobile phone users there might be a similar solution, but it is only for Android users. First, delete the Facebook and Messenger app from your phone. Then, find the ‘Tinfoil for Facebook’. app in the Play Store. This app is a so-called Facebook wrapper: it only shows the mobile webpage of Facebook rather than the entire app. Some functions will not be available, but you do prevent Facebook from tracking your phone’s camera, microphone and GPS location. 

Double-check your settings

Van der Kouwe advises users to double-check their Facebook settings in order to see which third-party apps have access to your personal information. ‘In the settings you can deny those apps access to your information. For example, games or quizzes you once played on the platform.’ It doesn’t surprise the security expert that Facebook allows these apps. ‘Such games are often a social activity; an activity that binds people to Facebook. Those games can be social exactly because they have your personal information. Facebook could share less information with app developers, but then apps will become less social. And that is, of course, not what Facebook wants.’

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