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Facebook: The Never-ending Privacy Struggle

Thursday, March 14, 2019

It feels like every week there is another news article about Facebook violating the privacy of its users. How do they get away with it? The main reason is that they are a monopoly of sorts--no one has developed a good alternative that allows you to remain in contact with distant friends and family and have discussions ranging from the political to the silly with disparate individuals.

All of which makes it difficult to use Facebook without any number of worries and concerns gnawing at the back of your mind. Especially since Facebook tracks and collects data about people who are not even users.

After getting several questions in the past couple of weeks, I thought I'd go ahead and reiterate some of things you CAN do to reduce this invasion of privacy.

First, understand the basics of databases and unique identifiers. Your email address is a unique identifier. The more places you use that single address, the more opportunities companies like Facebook have to tie together the things you do online.

One solution to this is both simple and incredibly complicated: use multiple email addresses.

Second, you need to consider how the parts of the web that make it actually useful REALLY work. Cookies are bits of data (usually about you) left by websites in your web browser. When used for evil, this data shares information about what you do across multiple websites--it's how Facebook collects data about people whether they are Facebook members or not.

In general, cookies from one web browser can't be accessed from a different web browser. For this reason, I recommend installing multiple web browsers and keeping Facebook in its own little silo.

You can also install browser apps that help to keep data collected on one website from leaking across to other websites.

Another thing that should be obvious, but isn't, is that you should never use your Facebook credentials to log into another website. Create unique credentials for all websites you log into. If this sounds like an undue burden, then you need to get setup with a password safe. I talk a bit about password safes in Technology Security class and handout.

You might also want to read my Facebook Privacy handout.

Please feel free to share this article with family and friends--Facebook is not going to safeguard our privacy, so we have to look out for each other.

Previous articles:
Facebook and Privacy: An On-going Discussion
Using Social Media without Going to War with Family and Friends