Should I delete my Facebook account?



“When the service is free, you are the product”

Image: PixBay/Creative Commons

Whether they were successful or not, Cambridge Analytica has made a lot of people uncomfortable to the point that many have deleted their Facebook accounts, and more are considering it.

The scandal alleges that Cambridge Analytica unethically used 50 million people’s Facebook data to try to influence the 2016 U.S. election. This raises a question for BestSelling Reads members, and indeed all authors in this new age of independent writers and a market dominated by e-books: should we continue to have a presence on Facebook? If so, how do we protect ourselves, and our readers, fans and friends?

The need for social media

All the book marketing gurus tell authors that we need to have a social media presence, among other things, if we want to sell books. We’re also supposed to have a website, a blog, an email list with thousands of addresses—and we have to keep writing more books.

Every author I know has a Facebook profile, and so does the group itself. It has a lot of utility. It’s one of the main ways my readers connect with me. Last week, I held a live Facebook event to launch my new book on Amazon, and used Facebook Live to do reading from my new book. I had tons of comments, questions and entries to little giveaway contests that I had.

It’s hard to give up Facebook, an application that connects millions, if not a billion people.

But it has its dangers, in the form of people who misuse it for their own gain at others’ expense.

What Facebook is doing with your information

Facebook works by selling advertising. There are more than a billion users in the world, which makes it an enticing medium to any advertiser.

But Facebook goes beyond just broadcasting like television or radio. It uses the information about you to determine what you might be interested in. This allows advertisers to develop ads that will be more appealing to you. Facebook and advertisers use demographic information, like your age and where you live, to target advertising to you.

In addition to the personal data in your profile, Facebook gets more valuable information from things like how long you spend watching a video, or which apps and games you play, and which posts you respond to.

That’s why your advertising feed, the column on the right side of the screen, and the sponsored ads in your news feed are about products and services that echo what you’ve been responding to on Facebook.

Cambridge Analytica created an app on Facebook that asked people to take a quiz. It then exploited a loophole that allowed it to collect data about both the quiz takers and their Facebook friends, as well—in defiance of privacy laws that say data about a person can only be collected with their consent, and for the purpose for which it was collected in the first place.

Now it’s a huge scandal.

What’s the solution?

There are steps you can take to protect your data from misuse. Some are just so obvious, they shouldn’t need stating. But here they are, anyway.

  • Keep your password confidential. Don’t even tell family and friends. You may trust them not to abuse your profile, but they may not be as careful about protecting your identity as you are.
  • Don’t put your home phone number, home address, date of birth or email address in your Facebook profile.
  • Be careful about what you post, especially if it’s something that you know may offend or upset a potential employer. In general, I try not to be offensive and avoid offensive language. That doesn’t prevent people taking offense I what I say, however.
  • Don’t post about being away from home or on a long vacation—you are asking bad people to break into your house.

Privacy settings

Facebook has over 50 different privacy settings, with in total more than 170 options. The New York Times has published a simple guide to help you find them.

Start with the little downward-pointing triangle on the top right of the Facebook screen. Select Settings, then from the left menu, Privacy. Set who can see your profile information. Usually, the choices are Public, Friends, Friends except acquaintances, Only me and Custom.

But that’s not all. Every App has its own settings. So do Timeline, Ads, Public Posts, and every App. This is what makes games like Farmville so dangerous as well as annoying. Set to Public, it lets others see that you use the app. Make sure you’re comfortable with each setting here.

And even if you set everything to Private, advertisers can still use the data to build a profile of you. And you know that prompt you get to add your phone number to “enhance” your security? Don’t do it. It’s another data point that can be used to identify and target you.

Don’t share everything

The more you post on Facebook, the more information you give advertisers to target ads to you. You don’t have to share every restaurant meal, unless you want to get more ads from restaurant chains.

I have learned not to answer quizzes that will tell me which fictional character I am, or what my level of education is. That just helps advertisers target ads to me better.

I am also struggling with arguing politics and philosophy on Facebook. By the time someone gets around to uploading something egregiously false, they’ve worked themselves into a mindset that will not be changed by logic and facts, anyway.

Finally, here’s something I just learned from NBCnews.com: download a copy of all your Facebook data to see just how much information you’re actually sharing. You may be surprised.

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