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How Facebook Users Are Responding To The Cambridge Analytica Scandal


On this week's All Tech Considered, what are you doing about your Facebook account after the Cambridge Analytica revelations?


CHANG: After learning that the political firm Cambridge Analytica improperly got 50 million Facebook profiles, lots of people wrote in to NPR with their questions. Here's a sample of what we've heard.

JONI SHERMAN: My name is Joni Sherman (ph). I'm from Orlando, Fla. I'm wondering how in the heck this went on for so long without bells and whistles going on in their shop. And then I also wonder if I'm one of the 50 million Facebook users who's information was breached because I'd like to be able to react to that with my friends and such.

STEVE BEGAY: My name's Steve Begay (ph). I live in Rochester, N.Y. I'd like to know, from Facebook, where is my data. Who has taken it? Do they have an audit trail for what apps or other things have scraped my data?

GABRIELA SILK: My name is Gabriela Silk (ph). And I live in Longmont, Colo. Does Facebook even have the ability to tackle the enormity of this issue? And if they don't, what should I and other Facebook users be doing in the meantime?

CHANG: We're going to put some of those questions to Manoush Zomorodi now. She hosts WNYC's podcast Note To Self. She's been reporting on Cambridge Analytica and Facebook for a while now. And she's taking some steps to protect her own data. Manoush, welcome.


CHANG: Currently, how do we know if, say, any of us are one of the 50 million people?

ZOMORODI: We don't yet. Mark Zuckerberg came out last week and said that Facebook will alert the 50 million people whose data were taken by Cambridge Analytica. But we haven't heard from him yet. But I think for now we should just all assume that our data has been taken...

CHANG: Yeah.

ZOMORODI: ...Because even if our data didn't go to Cambridge Analytica, who knows the other companies that may have had access to it?

CHANG: Is there a way for someone to find out all of the data that Facebook has on us?

ZOMORODI: Yes. On Facebook, if you go into settings, there is a way to download a copy of your information. It could include all the contacts in your address book, maybe your calendar. There are even some people saying that they have seen that it has metadata from cellphone calls that they made. That is because when you put Facebook on your phone, or you signed up for a new account, it said, would you like to connect with all your contacts? And if you said yes, it hasn't been made clear just how deeply it has gotten into your personal data. But you can download a zip file for yourself.

CHANG: So I heard that you went about trying to figure out what data Cambridge Analytica might have gotten on you.

ZOMORODI: Yeah, I was really curious. I was like, well, if there's a psychographic profile of me out there, I want to see it. I went to datarequest.cambridgeanalytica.org last year, and I put in a request. I had to give two forms of ID. I had to pay a 10-pound fee. And so I got back a file. It was not the 5,000 data points that Cambridge Analytica claims to have on the majority of U.S. voters. But it did have the GPS points of my home.


ZOMORODI: It had my voting history - days that I've gone to vote in elections. The point of all of this is though our personal data is floating around the world. We don't know who has it and where there have been no safeguards - particularly here in the U.S.

CHANG: OK. So Facebook says it is going to be rolling out new privacy settings. But does it actually have the ability to tackle this issue? I mean, does any social media site have the ability to protect your privacy?

ZOMORODI: Well, I think to protect our privacy, they have to change the very business models that they are built on. There's the old saying, which is if the product is free, then you are the product. In this case, why don't we have to pay for Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or any of those - because we are giving them so much data. And the data is how they are making so much money off of advertising.

So in order for us to really tackle this problem, these companies either have to be nonprofits, like the encryption-based texting service signal. Or we'd have to be willing to pay for them, which, of course, means that it would be only people who could afford to pay for closed social networks, which, of course, defeats the very purpose of these social networks. It's a crucial existential question for Silicon Valley, absolutely.

CHANG: Manoush Zomorodi is the host of WNYC's podcast Note To Self. Thank you very much for joining us.

ZOMORODI: Oh, Ailsa, it was great to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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