The Protocols of the Elders of Facebook

So last week I gave you some tips on how to protect your data on Facebook. I also threw in a few asides on how I look at Facebook, the information it captures, and how it might have affected the 2016 election.

On The Media did a show about this last week. They interviewed Antonio García Martinez, a former product manager at Facebook who ran their ad targeting development, about what Cambridge Analytica might or may not have been capable of. He mentioned one of his tweets that summarizes my initial reaction to the story quite succinctly.

We have read and heard many theories about what was the one-thing-that-led-to-Trump: Comey’s initial announcement about the email investigation, Comey’s second announcement just before the polls opened, fake news!, the hours of free coverage the cable networks gave Trump (the most believable of the bunch,) Hillary’s (alleged) failure to reach out to people in the rust belt, Bernie not stopping his primary challenge soon enough, other things I must be forgetting, and now this.

Facebook ad targeting and Cambridge Analytica’s “psychographic modeling” are not as sophisticated as CA made it out to be. They were selling a product, and I know this is hard to believe, but they lied about what their software could do. It looks like the even Trump’s team of “the best people” didn’t believe it and gave it a pass.

Facebook’s data isn’t really that deep. It’s our personal information, and it’s worth protecting, but it’s just not as valuable as CA made it out to be.

According to Martinez, what Trump’s team really did with Facebook was exploit people’s timelines with clickbait. They got people to click on things with inflammatory rhetoric and “fake news.”

They also exploited Facebook’s ability to correlate lists of people gathered outside of the platform with users inside Facebook.

Did any of this win the election for them? No.

The interview is here. It’s worth a listen.


Let’s face it; there is no one thing that led to Trump in the White House. The groundwork was already there when he ran, and that’s what we need to look if we really want to start winning elections and eliminating what he represents.

The rest of the episode is worth a listen, as is the podcast most weeks.



How To Protect Yourself From the Next Cambridge Analytica (Maybe) Part Deux

I saw another article about locking down your privacy settings on Facebook. It was full of ads and written in the form of obnoxious slides, so I made my own version.

This is the story that won’t go away, or at least it must feel that way if your name is Zuckerberg or Sandberg. One interesting twist is the “story” that much of the Fox News/Blame Obama wing of the media have jumped on.

Tu Quoque

This one takes the form of “Well, Obama did it too!” and “The Liberal Media Thought It Was Great When Obama Did That!” This is, of course, the appeal to hypocrisy. It’s a long-revered and quite overused defense.

It’s difficult to see the point here. Who’s being hypocritical? Does the fact that other people mined Facebook mean it’s a nothing story?

The Obama campaign did use data from Facebook.

“We ingested the entire U.S. social graph,” Davidsen said in an interview. “We would ask permission to basically scrape your profile, and also scrape your friends, basically anything that was available to scrape. We scraped it all(Emphasis added)”

Carol Davidsen was the director of data integration and media analytics for Obama for America in 2011. “The entire U.S. social graph” means everything available from every Facebook user in the U.S. It sounds like hyperbole to me, but the point is that she thinks “scraping” it is both acceptable and desirable.

The difference here is “We would ask permission to basically scrape your profile…” They asked. That’s pretty much the opposite of how Cambridge Analytica did it.

But either way, there’s something worth noting: everyone does do it. They scraped it all. If you have a problem with people taking your data, you have a problem with everyone running for office.

But My Guy Didn’t Really Quoque!

Another popular refrain is “but Trump didn’t really use the data!”

Yeah, he didn’t collude with Facebook. So let’s just forget about it, right? Go back to your cat pictures.

Your Advertising Preferences

Let’s get to the important bits.

Go here. That should open in a new tab. Click on “Your Information.”

Click all those things off.

Click on “Ad Settings.”


Click on “Ads based on your use of websites and apps.” This doesn’t really seem to be related to how Facebook shares your data, but it can cut back some of the creepiness factor when on the site.


Turn this one off.

Now “Ads on apps and websites off of the Facebook Companies.”

Flip that guy to “No!”

And now for a really creepy one; “Ads with your social actions.” Read what this one controls. Ugh!

Just say “No One.”

While you’re here you can poke around the section on the top labeled “Your Interests.” You can see what Facebook thinks you like and remove some stuff you really don’t. (What is up with the icon for Movies???? Yeesh.)

So if I wanted to remove IFLS (I don’t) I would mouse over and click the X.

That should help a bit. Have a good Thursday.


How To Protect Yourself From the Next Cambridge Analytica (Maybe)

So how about that Facebook thing, huh? How can you protect yourself?

There are a couple of things you can do to prevent, or at least hamper, the next Cambridge Analytica. (Of course, the next 10 or 13 Cambridge Analyticas have already struck and already have your stuff, but you know what I mean.)

Before I give you specific instructions, let’s go over a few points.

Stop Calling It a “Breach”

When this story broke Sunday (even though it’s really old news, but I digress) new readers repeatedly called it a “data breach,” while techie folks and most of the techie press kept correcting them. This is because it’s not a fine point.

Facebook didn’t suspend CA and its parent company for “stealing” data. They suspended them for misusing it. For lying about why they wanted it. They’re not upset with them taking the data. They’re upset with lying about why they took it.

It’s Gonna Happen Again, And No One Cares

If Zuckerberg and Sandberg ever come out of hiding, they’ll make promises. Empty promises. Senators and Congresspeople will make bold statements. Dianne Feinstein, one of Silicon Valley’s Senators, will demonstrate her inability to grasp the fundamentals of well, our Universe, and nothing will change.

Collecting and selling this data is Facebook’s business, and another story that’s been drowned out, for the most part, makes this crystal clear. Facebook’s Chief information security officer is quitting over a disagreement over how Facebook handles these issuesand his department, which has already been cut from 120 people to 3, is being eliminated.

He has been overseeing the transfer of his security team to Facebook’s product and infrastructure divisions. (emphasis added) His group, which once had 120 people, now has three, the current and former employees said.

Taking a department, breaking it up, and distributing its responsibilities across the departments it used to oversee means its less important, not more. Anything Facebook promises about dealing with misuse of information or use of misinformation is bullshit.

All of the mechanisms used by CA were permitted by Facebook’s system. Many of them have since been disabled; only after Facebook was pressured by users and the government.

If a Product Is Free…You Know The Deal

You are the product on Facebook, Twitter, Google, and everything else free on the Internet. The philanthropists have left the building.

Google at least gives you tools to run a business and find damn near anything on the ‘net. It doesn’t make them any less evil (I mean, they even scrapped the “Don’t Be Evil” sham a while back) and I don’t even use them as my default search engine anymore, but the transaction is clear. “Use us to process information, and we’ll collect it.”

What does Facebook give you? A way to communicate trivial things. Poorly.

If you have something to sell, it is pretty useful. Of course, you have to pay for that part.

So What Can I Do?

Short of no longer using FB, which I am not even doing myself yet, do this:

      1. Go to Settings.
      2. Go to privacy and make it look like this. (Click to embiggen.)
        • Only friends can see your posts.
        • Stuff you are tagged in has to be reviewed by you. (Facebook will let you know.)
        • Only you can see your friends list. (This is important.)
        • Only friends can use your email address and your phone number to find you.
        • Your Facebook profile is not visible outside of Facebook.


    1. Go to Apps.
    2. Click on “App Others Use” and get very angry at Facebook. This where you can control what your friends share about you with other apps. Check out those default settings. Then make it look like mine.
    3. Extra Credit: disable Apps, Websites, and Plugins. If you want to be totally locked down, disable this feature. You may find it makes it impossible for you to use your Facebook profile to log into other websites. You shouldn’t do that. Your call.

That’s about all you can do, short of giving up on social media altogether. I’m close myself, but not there yet.

Stayed tuned. This blog is alive again.

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