By Arielle Mullen

Last year, we reported on the link between social media and the results of the 2016 presidential election. Recently it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a political firm hired by the Trump campaign, accessed the private data of millions of Facebook users, prompting a mass exodus from the social media behemoth. And although the #LeaveFacebook campaign seemed to be gaining momentum in its early days, now that the dust has settled a bit it's becoming clear that with over 2 billion users, those who left are a mere drop in the bucket. To that point, Forbes has reported that March 21 was the exodus peak, and that the pattern observed is "very common in movements that do not stick."

In early March, seemingly overnight, Cambridge was thrust into the spotlight, leaving many Facebook users wondering what the heck happened, and exactly how far-reaching the effects of this scandal were. Although details are continuing to emerge, this security meltdown has prompted many to question how much of our personal information we think we're sending out into the ether of the internet, and how much is actually available. 

To help remove some of the mystery surrounding these recent events and the subsequent questions raised, we've compiled the key details of the Facebook/Cambridge scandal, steps to securing your personal account, and what you need to know if you're a business using Facebook as a marketing tool. 

What data was collected, and how was it accessed?

Recent reports estimate close to 87 million accounts were accessed. Data collected included details about each user's network, their location, and their "likes." This information was then leveraged to create personality maps which could be analyzed to pinpoint users who could be targeted with ads designed to sway their political leanings one way or another. Out of the 87 million profiles accessed, only about 270,000 users had given consent for their data to be harvested. Worse still, those who had given consent did so with the understanding that their data was being used for academic purposes. Facebook has insisted this was not a "data breach," but the facts uncovered in recent weeks has pointed to conflicting statements from each entity. Another important piece of information to consider is that third-party apps like CandyCrush and FarmVille have long-since had access to users data. Such data collection is not only allowed, but actively encouraged by Facebook in an effort to keep developers invested in building on top of their API. 

How can I secure my Facebook account?

Keep in mind, any and all information shared on your profile should be expected to be collected by Facebook and third-party apps. Meaning, next time you take a quiz to find out if you're a Rose or a Blanche, or a Ross, Rachel, or Phoebe, by granting access to the app, you leave yourself susceptible. And although the data collected isn't supposed to be used for advertising or sold to a different third-party, doing so is exactly what landing Cambridge in hot water to begin with. 

To secure your account, go to Settings > Privacy, and restrict who can see your future posts, whether search engines outside of Facebook can link to your profile, who can see your friends list, etc. Next, head to Settings > Apps, and remove access for any apps you don't regularly use. Need more info? Review this step-by-step breakdown on restricting privacy settings. If you'd like to prevent Facebook from tracking you around the web, Firefox has released an extension called Facebook Container that will isolate your internet activity from Facebook.

How can I tell if Cambridge Analytica accessed my account? 

On April 4, Facebook shared an update with new information on the Cambridge data breach. It's worth reading in full, but one of the most important takeaways is that starting on April 9, Facebook will include a link at the top of the News Feed containing info on which apps they use and the information shared with them. In addition, they'll be telling people if their information may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica. 

What does this mean for Facebook marketing?

Millions of businesses use Facebook as a marketing tool, and if you count yourself among them, you're probably concerned as to whether you should still be focusing efforts there. As mentioned in our intro, although we certainly witnessed an exodus in the early days, it seems clear Facebook will weather the storm fairly unscathed. User behavior changes over time, but never very quickly. In addition, many users in developing countries only have access to the internet through Facebook Free Basics. Meaning: not using Facebook would mean no longer accessing the internet at all. Need more reassurance? By reviewing the data we can also see that Facebook's other holdings (Instagram, FB Messenger, and What'sApp) are doing just fine. Regarding best practices for continuing to use Facebook in your marketing plan, we suggest the following: 

  • Ensure the content shared is high-quality and will be valuable to your target audience.
  • Learn to use Facebook Ads - there's never been a better time! 
  • Refine your efforts and ask yourself: is Facebook the best place for you to communicate with your target audience? Don't just sign up for a social network because you think it's what you "should" be doing.
  • Use Facebook to share your brand promise & company values

Do you have questions about using Facebook to market your business? Let us know!

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