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Last Word: #DeleteFacebook and Keeping Your Personal Data Safe on Social Media

A woman looks at privacy settings on her laptop computer by David M G
A woman looks at privacy settings on her laptop computer by David M G

During our conversation on Thursday on The Sound of Ideas, we wanted to follow up on comments and questions you made during our discussion about whether people were considering deleting Facebook in the wake of revelations that a campaign marketing group, Cambridge Analytica, had used the data of 50 million Facebook users to target political messages during the 2016 presidential campaign. 

S R emailed us this question about the mobile messaging app, WhatsApp, as well as another type of service - a VPN or virtual private network - that some people use to add privacy to their web use:

I use What'sApp. Is my privacy protected since it claims to be end-to-end encryption? How about NordVPN and other VPN services.

Globally, WhatsApp is one of the most popular mobile messaging apps - apps like Viber, Line, Telegram, Facebook Messenger and WeChat, which is popular in China. Privacy conscious people have been drawn to WhatsApp for its security features. As S R says, the communications are encrypted, similar to your connection to your bank or to e-commerce sites. It makes it difficult, even for governments, to monitor your communications. And by its nature, WhatsApp is for private communications rather than sharing status updates or posting public messages like a social network like Facebook or Twitter, so it's a different beast than simply sharing updates publicly or even with a select group of friends. 

The issue has been is that Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion. In looking for ways to make money from WhatsApp users, Facebook has toyed with the idea of using some of the same data profiling efforts that it uses on its main platform. When Facebook announced the move, they faced an instant backlash, and as I mentioned during the program, European regulators have consistently enforced stricter privacy guidelines than here in the US. Germany, France and the UK have all ordered WhatsApp to stop any data sharing with its parent company. While EU users might be protected, I wouldn't be so sure about US users. 

You can take steps to protect yourself. If you are an Android WhatsApp user, here is how you can opt out of sharing informationwith Facebook. If you're an iPhone user, here are the instructions you'll need

What else does Facebook own? Instagram

And while we're on the subject of WhatsApp and its parent company, Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg and Co. also own Instagram, and to put that in perspective, in many countries, Zuck owns three of the top 10 or often the top five social networks, and Google owns two of the top five or 10 web properties, its search service plus YouTube. That's why they are called the Duopoly. A recent survey by tech site Verge, found that 60 percent of people aren't aware that Facebook owns Instagram

More than that, if you want to sell an ad on Instragram, you use Facebook's ad tool, so functionally, there is little difference between Facebook and Instagram when it comes to using your personal information to target you for advertising or other marketing messages. If you're running to Instagram to get away from Facebook's leaky privacy, you probably will be disappointed. 

VPN - Virtual Private Networks

S R also asked about VPN services. The easiest way to think about VPN services is that it is like having an encrypted connection to your bank but for everything that you do online. That is helpful, but it isn't going to do anything to protect data that you willingly share with the services that you use, and the VPN could still be collecting your information. NordVPN has a "no logs policy" so that means that they aren't collecting any information. Most of the VPN services cost money, but if you are concerned about privacy, it might be worth the money. 

#DeleteFacebook? Not a chance

We also had a few extra comments that we received before the program that we weren't able to get to on air. I want to highlight this one from the 90.3 WCPN Facebook page. Is Haans Petruschke considering deleting Facebook? 

Not even considering it. Facebook has enormous utility of you are not stupid about how you use it. Having been on the actual internet (not AOL or Compuserve etc) since the late 1980s I have known that you could never have much of an assumption of privacy. The internet is a public space and a lot of what you do is public, 

I find it interesting how the press is pushing the  #delete thing. Seems like yet another desperate attempt to regain control of the filter it used to wield to manipulate public opinion. Thing is 70% of Americans no longer trust the corporate and main stream news media. Not because of Facebook but because the news media have been obviously violating that trust for almost 2 decades. This has left people looking for alternatives to the established oligarchy narratives.

Thank you for your comments and questions. You can still join the conversation on our Facebook page.