by Ben Fitter-Harding
Ask someone what Facebook is and the likely answer is simple. A place where friends and family share pictures, updates about what they’re doing and funny videos of cats.
Best of all, it’s free.
Free is good, right? Ok, free might mean I have to see some adverts while I’m using it, but I haven’t been living in a cave. That’s how the telly and the radio work so it’s all good with me.
The problem is that “free” on social media – that includes Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – is a little bit more complicated than that.
As you use Facebook and the others, as you interact with them, they learn an awful lot about you.
Fire up Facebook and go to Settings > Ads > Your information > Your categories.
Just by scrolling your news feed and liking and sharing as you go, Facebook knows your religion, your political affiliation, places you like to go, brands you like, celebrities you like, languages you speak: the list is huge.
And if you want it to forget all of this stuff it knows about you? Fine, but you’ll have to remove each category one at a time.
You might think you’ve never clicked an ad on Facebook, but hit “Settings > Ads > Advertisers that you’ve interacted with” and I’m almost certain you’ll find a list of not just advertisers that you’ve visited but advertisers that Facebook has shared your information with. I’m pretty sure you didn’t know it had done that.
This is where things start to become problematic.
Ok, so Facebook has been learning a bit more about you than you realised. That means it can show you very relevant ads, which isn’t the end of the world.
But is it ok if, when you click on an ad, your contact details are shared automatically? Indefinitely?
You’re still cool with that? Not a problem, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with what’s taking place so long as you’re aware that it’s happening and consent to it.
That is until Facebook starts letting your data out of its sight.
That’s exactly what happened with Cambridge Analytica. It all started innocently enough: a research project was allowed by Facebook to harvest the data of about 80 million people.
Unfortunately, that data then went walkabout, and before anyone knew what was going on this harmless system of “learning” about users in order to advertise to them better was being used to distort the most significant elections on the planet.
You don’t need to #deletefacebook, you really don’t. Used responsibly, like many things, it’s a fantastic tool for connecting with people and a valuable tool to anyone in digital marketing and advertising.
But you owe it to yourself, and all of your contact names, phone numbers and email addresses who have probably had their data slurped up off your phone by Facebook without their knowledge, to understand the risks.
And, if you’re so inclined, just spend 10 minutes in Settings turning off all the data collection settings that make you feel a bit queasy.
Ben Fitter-Harding has been a Conservative councillor for Blean Forest since 2012 and chairs Canterbury City Council’s property and regeneration committee. A former student of the University of Kent, he has a background in technology and design.