What is happening to Facebook? A Spanish research had already sounded the alarm

What is happening to Facebook? A Spanish research had already sounded the alarm

Of late, a lot has been talked of the problems Facebook is facing, after the scandal of Cambridge Analytica, a company that has sold personal data of the profiles of 87 million users of the social network (87 million as of April 5) to third parties for commercial purposes and to political parties.

Zuckerberg, once the myth of the "web and the open society", in these months is grappling with the attempt to drain the erosion of the Internet giant's reputation, the huge hits his company has taken in the stock market, the loss of users, the demands of legislative bodies in the United States and Europe to respond questions about Facebook doings. In short, a policy of restraining the damage of one of The Big Five of Silicon Valley, which may turn out to be a giant of… paper, “virtual paper” in this case.

But the problem is not new. It's just that public opinion or, better yet, the mass media once looked elsewhere. Perhaps the "obsession" of certain media on the Russian pressures in the US electoral campaigns, or on the Brexit exit referendum, or of Italy’s has driven to wake up the press-sleeping watchdog. This awakening is no doubt welcome. Other more attentive observers had already denounced the problem, as revealed by the study "Facebook uses sensitive data for advertising in Europe", realized by three researchers of the University Carlos III of Madrid and published in February this year. But what the discovery of this research consists of? A figure will be more helpful than putting it into many words: Facebook has at hand personal and sensitive data (political opinions, religion, union membership, health data, life and sexual orientation) of about 40% of the total European citizens. This means that the personal data of about 205 million Europeans are not anonymous and that their identity could be identifiable based on their personal information stored on Facebook, which puts the privacy of users in serious danger. But even more incredible is that Facebook handles this data without the consent of the subscribers. Let's look at how.

“Facebook uses sensitive data for advertising in Europe”: the study

Facebook assigns to each user a set of "ad preferences", that is a set of interests, derived from data and user activity in social media and external websites, on the apps and on online services where Facebook is present. These "ad preferences" are in fact the interests offered to the advertisers in Facebook Ads Manager to set up their own advertisements. Therefore, if a user is assigned "Watches" within the ad preferences list, he will be a potential target of any advertising campaign configured to reach users interested in "watches".

In most cases, "ad preferences" are derived from the activation of a Facebook user profile. The incredible thing is that the user cannot retract the explicit consent to Facebook to process personal data for advertising purposes. Moreover, by emphasizing the "Terms of Service", users grant permission to process and store personal data, but there is no reference to sensitive data, which are instead regularly handled by Facebook.

In conclusion, the researchers – José González Cabañas, Ángel Cuevas and Rubén Cuevas – affirm that Facebook is "commercially exploiting sensitive personal data for advertising purposes", a practice prohibited by the new GDPR – General Data Protection Regulation - coming soon next May 25 th and punishable with fines equal to four percent of the company's global annual turnover.

The new European data protection regulation is coming: does it you close one eye to the Web giants?

What is really amazing is that the amount of data, stored and handled by Facebook, was collected for years, without legislators taking action. Only a year ago the GDPR was approved and it will be enforced since next May 25, which will protect all member countries of the European Union.

Thanks to this new regulation, all data provided on the web can be collected and processed only in the presence of an explicit consent . But, despite Article 9 of the GDPR provides for the prohibition of "processing personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical values, or union membership, as well as processing genetic data, biometric data to uniquely identify a person", an exception is foreseen for Facebook and all the other giants of the web that will be able to process this sensitive data only if "the interested party has given his explicit consent". So in the case of Facebook, when opening the account, accepting the terms of agreement is due by default.

The right to be forgotten in the GDPR

The right to be forgotten, instead, allows you to request that your data be deleted if they are obsolete or there are no longer reasons for their usage. From the time of implementation in May 2014, the previous privacy policy known as Cookie Policy, the links removed by Google to fulfill the right to be forgotten by those involved were already more than 220,000. But what about social media profiles? Is your right to be forgotten protected?

Not at all, because very few know that, when a person requests to delete his account, Facebook does not delete data but keeps it in its database . And that's why if you delete an account and try to register again after a period of time, you find yourself presented with the old account with the ability to reactivate it.

It must be said that, to be able to permanently delete any content placed on the social net and shared several times, it would mean having to trace each single piece of content upstream, an impossible task. So at this point it is clear that the right to privacy is really gone off. This is just one instance, which shows why the debate on this topic is still very heated.

Pay attention to the apps that can use our data

It happens often that on Facebook you fill out personality tests or give access to other game apps. Every time we authorize an app to access our profile, we are giving access to our data. So to check if there are apps that use our data, you have to go to the application settings and check all the Apps, deleting those that are not used or that use data that you do not want to disclose to third parties.

Always in the same section, in the last box, or "Apps used by others", we provide information that our friends can "share" with other apps when they use them: in this case, the advice is to deselect everything.

Attention also to geo-localization. Perhaps it is best to disable it in the app settings of the cell phone, deselecting "Your position" for Facebook in its possible settings. Let us render eyeing difficult to the Big Brother.