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SS-ICT4D Week 2018

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Don’t just delete Facebook, poison your data first

If you're savvy with code, you can employ a script that repeatedly alters your Facebook posts with nonsense, making it more difficult for the social media site to collect user data.
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, there’s a widespread movement for people to #DeleteFacebook. But even when you go through all the steps to wipe your account, the odds are high that Facebook still has deep caches of all your user data, which is can still use. Better than simply deleting your account is to replace all that data with nonsense, and if you’re savvy with code, you can do just that.
Kevin Matthew, a former systems administrator who owns a small web development company, shared a script he created that replaces existing Facebook posts with randomly-generated nonsense. With a little coding know-how, you could use this script to repeatedly mangle all your Facebook posts over a period of several months, to make the bulk of Facebook’s data on you virtually unusable (though it doesn’t do anything for the data that’s already been scraped by third-parties, like the kind Cambridge Analytica allegedly gained access to).
Matthew said his script is simply a proof of concept, because actually doing this may be in violation of Facebook’s terms of service (so use at your own risk).
“My background is as a systems administrator, I’ve been doing that for 20 years, and everyone has data retention policies and backups,” Matthew told me over the phone. “Facebook, with its infinite amount of resources, I can only begin to imagine how that data is being held and retained.”
Matthew’s script automatically opens Facebook posts to edit and replaced them with randomly-generated text. The idea is that if you ran the script 100s, or 1000s of times, over the course of several months, on all of your data, it would likely make it more difficult for Facebook’s algorithms to pull useful data it uses to build a profile of you, including your political leanings and sexual orientation.
“Every little bit of information contributes to that invisible profile that they’re building of everyone,” Matthew said. “If we can obfuscate it even a little bit, that at least puts the power back into your hands as an end user.”
Though so far he’s only done a proof of concept for posts, going forward Matthew said it would be possible to build similar scripts to “poison” the rest of your Facebook data, such as tracking which websites you visit by having a script visit thousands of random sites while you’re logged into your account. To make it more accessible for non-coders, it would also be possible to create a desktop-based app that would run all the scripts for the average user.
We don’t know how far back Facebook’s history of data on its users extends, how that data is stored and backed up, but this is one way to at least make an attempt at sticking it to the platform before you leave it forever.
Matthew told me his main goal, though, is to raise awareness and to draw attention to the fact that the US and Canada have virtually no “right to be forgotten” laws, something that would protect a users right to have their data purged if they want to leave a site.
“Maybe my script won’t make a huge impact on a global scale, but maybe it will get us talking about protecting our privacy,” Matthew said. “If I want my data to be purged, I should have the right to do that.” 
Courtesy: Kaleigh Rogers of MOTHERBOARD.com

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