And I thought the Equifax security breach last year was bad.
The situation exposed this past week with Facebook is not a breach, it’s intentional, has lasted for years and it’s called “psychographic research.” If you are a Facebook user, and what genealogist isn’t today, it has already affected, read targeted, you. Facebook intentionally collected and allowed the collection of various types of information from their user’s profiles that enabled “others” to construct an extremely accurate psychological personality profile for each Facebook user. Those profiles allowed bad actors to tailor content intended to manipulate each individual Facebook user for their own nefarious purposes.
Facebook exploited the trust of every single one of their 1.8 billion users. Yes, that’s billion, with a B. Of those, 214 million are located in the US.
Most genealogists use Facebook routinely to maintain links to family, share photos and participate in various groups that support our genealogy addiction. Unfortunately, while Facebook users receive camaraderie and social media makes our world smaller – we have been being used as unwitting pawns in a heinous psychological experiment.
I’ve always said there is no such thing as “free,” and I know full well that Facebook supports the “free” platform with advertising revenue from advertisers hoping to reach people who like cats, for example, are in my age group or perhaps my geography. I never knew that they were stealthily gathering my information and selling it to unethical companies and organizations whose intention was to manipulate me psychologically and more specifically, attempting to manipulate my vote.
The full intention of these manipulators is to do whatever is necessary to mold your mind, including distribution of incorrect information, remaining blind to infiltration by “bots” and allowing Facebook users to be targeted with the intention of sewing divisiveness. As a result, we have the most polarized, hate-filled and divided country I’ve known in my lifetime.
This wasn’t an accidental security breach, nor even a security breach due to negligence. This was a planned act, sanctioned and even abetted by Facebook. They are complicit.
Without allowing this article to dip into the toxic brew of politics, suffice it to say that the intention of various “bad actors” was full well to sway our election and undermine our democratic system by whatever methods worked, regardless of ethics or morality, and Facebook was a full-on willing partner. User information was sold not just to the highest bidder, but every bidder, who just happen to be the devil(s) incarnate. Not one of the people who did this had “your” best interest at heart, which in and of itself is enough to tell me whatever they want is a bad idea.
If you’re unaware, please educate yourself on what has happened and fully understand that this DOES affect you. Even if you personally have never played a seemingly innocent Facebook game, like Farmville, or clicked on one of those “personality profiles,” “what is your movie star name” links or answered those “tell me 10 things about yourself” postings, one of your Facebook friends surely has…and your data has been collected and used both against you and the underpinnings of our very democracy. While I’m an American, there is evidence that these same shady characters were also involved with manipulating the highly volatile Brexit vote in the UK along with elections elsewhere in the world.
Even more unfortunate, many of the people on Facebook, especially those focused on genealogy, are of or near retirement age. 26% are age 55-64 and 21% are over 65. These people tend to be the most trusting, the least technologically savvy and the most likely to click on those fun links or answer those “20 questions” challenges posted by friends – never suspecting that they are exposing themselves to targeted psychological manipulation by people who are willing to pay to have their poison information planted in your newsfeed.
That total of 47% means that the private data of over 100 million US people of AARP age has been gathered. In 2017, the entire population of the US was 325 million, including children, so roughly 30% of the entire US population has been targeted and unknowingly manipulated by God-knows-who-all.
Think about this for a minute. Look at the things you’ve “Liked” on Facebook over the past few days. For me, it’s been cats, quilts, wildlife, photos, genetic genealogy, DNA articles and my friends and cousins’ feeds. To many Facebook users, a “like” is the online equivalent of waving at your neighbor when you see them drive by.
Nothing revealing in what I “liked”, you might say, but that’s not true. You can tell that I’m both empathetic and science focused. You can tell by looking at the race of my friends along with articles that I “like” that I’m certainly not prejudiced. Combine those things together, along with whatever else Facebook has collected by reading my posts and private messages, and you can easily tell what kinds of propaganda to plant in my news feed to upset me.
Post just one article about animal abuse in my feed, and I’m on the phone calling someone to emphatically demand change. For example, the dog last week who died on a United Airlines flight. I’m certainly not flying United if I have any choice whatsoever.
Racism, discrimination, domestic violence or child abuse…same reaction. Now, do you still think you’re not predictable by the trail of psychological breadcrumbs you’re leaving behind?
Ever forward one of those, “If you love Jesus, you’ll forward this” pictures because you certainly didn’t want anyone to think you didn’t love Jesus, or felt obligated or guilty if you didn’t forward? Well, you were psychologically manipulated and you just told the exploiters about your religious beliefs so you can be targeted and so can everyone of your downstream friends and family members.
Up until now, the viruses we worried about were viruses implanted on your computer. What Facebook did was to pave the way for these exploiters to plant viruses in your brain without your knowledge.
Even worse, Facebook recently made changes in their algorithm to limit the things you see in your feed, and the ONLY way for you to increase the things you like to see is to “like” even more, or tag the page or account to “show first,” providing Facebook with even more information about you to sell to whomever.
I feel somewhat responsible at this point, because I wrote an article just 10 days ago telling you exactly how to do just that – never suspecting the clandestine information collection that was occurring, or why. So yes, I’ve been exploited too. And I’m furious.
If you thought “Big Brother” was the government all along, you’re wrong. It’s Facebook who will apparently sell to anyone including the devil himself.
Is Psychographic Profiling Accurate?
If you’re doubting the accuracy of psychographic profiling, as I was, take into account the compiled research information about Facebook “likes” by a grad student at Cambridge University. The inspiration for this whole debacle was inspired by this research which indicated that by gathering:
- only 68 Facebook “likes,” your skin color could be predicted with 95% accuracy
- 68 likes – your sexual orientation predicted with 85% accuracy
- 70 likes – they would “know you” better than your friends
- 150 likes – know you better than your parents
- 300 likes – know you better than your partner
Massive surveillance designed to capitalize on your emotional and psychological vulnerabilities in the hands of those who do not have your best interest at heart.
Take this one step further and imagine that if it’s obvious that you are strongly opposed to sex trafficking of children, someone who wanted to deter you from voting for a particular candidate might make up a story about that candidate engaged in a sex ring trafficking children. Would you dislike that candidate? If you were on the fence, would it knock you right off? If your answer is yes, then psychographic profiling and manipulation worked. Does it matter whether the information is true? No, not as long as it works. A vote now is worth being caught in a lie later – or at least that’s the theory.
And we were worried about what our DNA might divulge. Absolutely nothing, comparatively speaking.
I’m listing a few articles here that describe, in horrifying detail, the inside workings of the stealth Facebook operations by shady operators and the companies, like Cambridge Analytica. They utilized harvested user data by collaborating with Facebook to control what users see and targeting users through their emotionally vulnerabilities. In other words, you were fed information specifically aimed at making you feel one way or another.
Former Facebook operations manager, Sandy Parakilas, yesterday, in a Newsweek article stated that most of Facebook’s users likely had their information acquired by companies exploiting the same terms and conditions that allowed Cambridge Analytica’s data gathering through an app called “thisisyourdigitallife.” While only 270,000 people had played that game on Facebook,” the data of over 50 million was collected from the friends (and friends of friends) of those 270,000 people through exposures exploited by that app with Facebook’s full knowledge and consent – in just 3 months time.
This is both terrifying and nauseating.
- Mark Zuckerberg finally commented today, on Facebook of course, at this link.
- The Guardian and the New York Times first broke the news. Guardian article – The Cambridge Analytica Files: meet the data war whistleblower
- CNN article – Facebook’s data scandal: Key names to know
- LA Times (note the photo) – data mining company allegedly used Facebook to distort user’s reality
- Newsweek – Facebook whistle-blower reveals Cambridge Analytica is tip of data-mining iceberg
- New York Times Podcast – The Data Harvesters
The NYT podcast is especially enlightening and explains the timeline and methodology of how a bright young man devised a methodology to harvest Facebook data with the explicit intention of influencing voting behavior to reshape American politics. Realizing his discoveries had become a monster out of control, he resigned in 2014. Now he has become the whistleblower that blew the lid off of this scandal of unprecedented scope and scale, a magnitude undreamed of…at least by most of us. This is the most detailed of all of the resources I’ve found and explains the path from what seemed a relatively innocent and interesting discovery initially to a weaponized massively deployed fear-based political exploitation tool just three years later.
Ok, now that you know what’s happening, what can you do?
Many people are leaving Facebook and deleting their accounts. The #DeleteFacebook movement is growing.
Be aware that this doesn’t mean that what you’ve already done is gone. Your postings and comments on people’s pages and in other groups will still exist. It’s just your own account that is removed. At least you can’t be manipulated by what is fed to you anymore, but you also won’t be able to connect with family members. For many, and especially older people, Facebook is where friends are and connections make people feel a lot less isolated, especially when mobility or distance is an issue.
Furthermore, the cow has already left the barn, and “they” already have a psychological profile of you, meaning whoever has gathered or purchased your data. Believing “they” will delete that information and never use it is foolhardy.
Yes, you can leave Facebook. That’s clearly the easiest and most direct approach and I’ll show you how to do that in the next section.
If you don’t want to leave Facebook, there are precautionary steps you can take.
First, stop interacting, meaning “liking” things. Yea, I know. Double edged sword.
Second, don’t take any quizzes or post any personal information, at all. Ever. There’s a reason why people with high level security clearances aren’t allowed to have Facebook accounts.
Third, do not, EVER click on those “clickbait” things that give you something interesting for free. I don’t care how great you’ll look airbrushed and all glamoured up on the cover of a fashion magazine, and yes, my friend did look fantastic, BUT – DON’T DO IT! It’s an entryway for the rats. Same with “what would you look like as a woman?” or man, or bald, etc.
Ask yourself when you see something like this – why would someone want to give you something for “free?” Free is often a clandestine trap for the unsuspecting. The more interesting it looks, the more suspicious you should be.
Just. Don’t. Click.
Fourth, take steps through Facebook settings to protect yourself from application platform sharing. Of course, this does nothing to affect what Facebook itself is collecting in order to target you with focused ads. Ever wonder why something you googled outside of Facebook now appears in your Facebook ad feed almost immediately? It’s not coincidence. It’s your digital trail of breadcrumbs.
Here are some great articles about Facebook security and privacy, and how to shore yours up.
I strongly recommend the following FaceCrooks article that not only tells you what to do to protect yourself, but why.
Fifth – do not sign in to applications through Facebook, which provides your Facebook user data to that application, potentially exposing your friends’ data too. These articles explain how to get rid of those pesky apps, including an article by Facebook itself.
- Electronic Frontier Foundation – How to Change Your Facebook Settings to Opt Out of Platform API Sharing.
- FaceCrooks – Why you should NOT install “Fun and Entertaining” Facebook Applications
- CNN Article – Fed up with Facebook? Here’s how to protect your data
- Facebook – Cracking Down on Platform Abuse
Strengthening or Deleting Your Account
I’m going to check my own privacy settings, so come along and then use this same technique to check your own.
Go to Settings by clicking on the down arrow on the top right of your blue bar. You’ll see a dropdown list that includes “Settings.”
Click on Settings.
If you are going to leave Facebook, you can download a copy of your data through the “Download a copy of your Facebook data” link, at the bottom of the list.
By clicking on “Manage Account,” you can delete your account. Note that delete means permanently.
Don’t want to delete your account and leave Facebook? Then let’s improve your privacy.
On the left hand side, click on “Privacy” which shows your various selections. Lock this down to only your friends and allow “only me” to see your friends list.
Next, on the left hand sidebar, click on “Apps.” At the top, you’ll see which applications have access to your Facebook account. I didn’t think there would be any other than WeRelate, the Ancestry app, but I was wrong.
It appears that I have indeed logged into a few sites through Facebook.
Most of these I at least recognize, except one. Who the devil is Hub One and why are they in my account?
Clicking on the pencil icon by the app shows you your options, below.
Looking at what the apps have access to is enlightening. Apps have access to both my profile photo and other public profile information, plus my e-mail address.
Neither the link titled “Choose the Info This App Can Use” nor “Learn How Apps Can Use Your Info” tell me what this app is doing or even “who” this app is. Both just link to an article. Not useful.
The “Remove Info Collected by the App” simply tells me to contact the developer by clicking the X in the bottom right corner after opening the app. Three strikes, Facebook.
I still don’t know who Hub One is, nor what they are doing, nor any way to find out what data they’ve collected. I couldn’t contact them if I wanted to, because I don’t know who they are.
I resorted to Google and discovered that a company called Hub One says they are a document management company, but Googling a little further, look what I found.
Interesting, a company that says they are an “integrator of mobile and tracking solutions for 4500 enterprises” shows up on my Facebook account and I have no idea why.
Of course, this might not be the same company. The logos don’t look the same, and I have absolutely no way to know. Facebook certainly isn’t telling.
Furthermore, how does one figure out HOW to contact the company that has weaseled their way into my Facebook account. Clearly Facebook knows, because they approved this app for their platform, but they aren’t divulging AND they are putting the onus back on you to figure out who they’ve allowed to weasel in.
Hub One, whoever you are, you’re gone!
I certainly don’t want Bing collecting data about me from Facebook either, which probably explains about those ads mysteriously appearing on Facebook right after I googled “witch costumes” for my granddaughter. To delete, I click on the little X by their app, then continue in the box in the corner.
I use Skype, but why would it want access to my Facebook account? Same question for Norton Safe Web.
Next, click on the square box labeled “Apps, Websites and Plugins.”
You can disable all of the applications. I would suggest doing so by clicking on the bottom right on “disable platform.” That means no application can interact with Facebook by effectively shutting the door entirely. If you’re a blogger, and your blogging platform interacts with your Facebook account to post, you might not want to do this.
Next, click on the square box “Apps Others Use.”
By now, it should be pretty obvious that you’re really only as safe as your most exposed friend – same concept as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
I suspect I’ve disabled some of these options in the past, but look at what’s exposed now. This is the data that can be (and probably has been) scraped from my account through the accounts of my friends who use those apps that allow me to be targeted.
Not anymore, they are all gone now. Don’t forget to “Save.” For some reason, I had to repeat this process two or three times to get it to “take,” so check your selections afterwards. I’ll be generous and call it a glitch or a bug and not cynically suggest that maybe Facebook is trying to retain my “open door” settings.
There is no excuse. Period.
You knew and intentionally betrayed every single one of the people who trusted you by luring your subscribers into a false sense of security. You never told us that WE, our minds, are the commodity that you are selling. You never disclosed the truth. Your behavior is utterly reprehensible, especially given that your small act of contrition in your Facebook posting today only occurred after you were called onto the carpet, very publicly, years into this deceptive behavior.
Kind of reminds me of the unfaithful spouse who has been sleeping with half the town for several years. Finally caught, they’re very sorry, of course. Much like the betrayed spouse, I have lots of questions.
- I want to know what has been harvested from me.
- I want the history of what apps, if any, I interacted with, ever, that gathered or might have gathered my information. Don’t make me hunt for it like you made me hunt for the Russian bot information. Put it right there in my feed where I can’t miss it, you know, like you put the other articles you planted for me to read.
- I want to know who exposed my data.
- I want to know the identity of the apps on my account. You owe that much to your users, instead of making the victims attempt to figure out who that app is and how to contact them.
- I want a list of which apps you’ve determined to be acceptable for any Facebook user, who they are and what they are really doing. I want full transparency. Now.
- I want you to stop manipulating me either through ads or targeted psychological profiling as a result of surveillance designed to determine what to “serve” me in my newsfeed. Stop making me the unwilling victim in your information meat-market.
- I want to know what you’re doing for your users to right this wrong?
Just like I used to tell my kids, remorse after getting caught isn’t remorse about your behavior, it’s only remorse that you got caught.
- Just because you can doesn’t mean you should!
- Integrity is what you do when no one else is looking.
I guess Facebook and their compatriots in this psychographic war have removed any question about integrity. Now all that’s left is the cleanup, or divorce, your choice.
As for genealogists, make your decision about Facebook. If you stay, spruce up your privacy, protect yourself and one way or another, continue with your valuable genealogical research.
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