Homeschoolers: Stop Using Facebook?

Facebook style thumb pointing down with words privacy and data breach on either side


Homeschoolers: Should You Stop Using Facebook?


I am sure you have heard about it.  The Facebook data breach.  Misuse of Facebook users’ data.  It is all over the news


Why Should Homeschoolers be Concerned?


Within the past several years, homeschoolers have come to use and rely on connecting with others through Facebook.  Connecting over Facebook has replaced connecting face to face in traditional support groups and has all but replaced connecting over email lists and forums.


We go to Facebook to find support, events, and opportunities as well as to discuss challenges.  It is easy to connect this way.


What Happened?


It can be difficult to sort out all of the implications of the Facebook data breach.  Thanks to non-profit social media consultant, Julia Campbell, we’re able to give you a glimpse into how this happened, what it means, and provide you with some ideas to help tighten up your data security on Facebook.


In a nutshell, developers and websites can link their apps to Facebook.  If you use such an app, the developer can “scrape” data from your Facebook profile.  If you use your Facebook login to access other websites, Facebook has access to your data.  In some cases, information about your friends can also be “scraped”.  Data from 50 million Facebook users was harvested by a company for political use, without users’ knowledge.


So What?


In the case of Cambridge Analytica, the data that was scraped was used by political marketers to customize the information that was presented to individual Facebook users using a technique called psychographic advertising


Psychographic advertising allows targeting information to fit a user’s interests, attitudes, and sometimes even their personality traits.  If you are a Facebook user with an interest in social justice, you may receive biased, selective, and targeted information or ads that emphasize a political candidate’s support or opposition to social justice, depending on the goal of the marketing firm.  If you oppose immigration, you may be shown ads with frightening images of armed immigrants committing crimes, which would strengthen your opposition.  Psychographic marketing can influence you.  Facebook collects this information about you from your interactions with Facebook!



What Can Homeschoolers Do to Protect Their Information?


Well, you could stop using Facebook altogether.  Since homeschoolers have come to depend heavily on Facebook for support, that might not be a realistic option.  Facebook has said they’re going to make privacy controls easier to navigate.  That does not mean that they are going to collect less data or allow you to determine what data is collected.  That is their bread and butter.  However, there are several actions you can take right now to help secure your information.


Look at How Your Profile Appears to a Member of the Public


My Facebook privacy settings are tight.  If we are not friends on Facebook, all you can see are some sparse details:  two places that  I have lived and public posts that I have made to my timeline.

 FB Sample About Profile



Here is how you can see how your profile appears to a member of the public.  If you do not like what members of the public can see, then edit your privacy and other options that appeared when you selected settings.


How to view your FB profile as a member of the public



If we are friends, you can see more information about me, such as two family members, my friends, photos, and my timeline posts.  You can not see the groups that I am a member of or my interests.  I will not bore you with a screenshot.



Find Out What Facebook Knows About You and Change What is Shared with Advertisers



Now let us look at what Facebook knows about me and what Facebook app developers can potentially harvest.  I will share some examples from my Facebook account.  I had to be logged in to Facebook to view this information.  We will talk about the first four entries here:  Your interests, Advertisers you've interacted with, Your information, and Ad settings.


FB ad preferences page


Starting with Your interests, here is what Facebook knows about me!


FB Interests Page sample



Notice all of the different categories across the top of this page. Based on my interactions with Facebook, they know a lot about my interests in all of these categories. 

 FB Interests More Tab Categories List

There is even an option to See More in this Business and Industry category (sorry - I cropped that out).  I am not sure which loan page I interacted with, but Facebook knows.  You can click on each category listed across the top of this section to see what types of ads you might receive based on your interests.  Click on the More tab at the far right to see additional categories.


You can delete any of these entries.  If you looked at the More tab, you saw that this information does not disappear from Facebook.  It is still there, under Removed Interests but will no longer be used to shape what ads you see. 


Our next stop is the Advertisers you’ve interacted with section.  You can see which advertisers have received your contact information.  You may be on their customer list and not even know it.  You can also see which advertisers you have hidden.  Here are the advertisers that Facebook knows I have interacted with.  I may be on their customer list.


FB Advertisers You've Interacted With Image



Then we move on to Your information I encourage you to look at your About You.  You can toggle these selections on and off.


FB Your Information Image


If you look at the bottom of that section, you’ll see this: 


”These settings only affect how we determine whether to show certain ads to you. They don't change which information is visible on your profile or who can see it. We may still add you to categories related to these fields (see Your categories above).” 


Facebook is telling you that they will still add you to categories based on your Facebook activity. 


Then take a look at Categories under Your Information.  I am not going to share a screenshot of my information because I choose not to make this information public.  Again, you can delete these categories, but Facebook may add them right back, depending on how you interact with Facebook.


Our last stop is Ad SettingsThis is particularly interesting.  Facebook tells us that this information is used to give us more relevant ads.  Facebook is clear that we are going to see the same number of ads, but allowing Facebook access to this information means the ads will be more relevant. 



It is a trade-off.  Do you want Facebook to have more information about you and provide you with more relevant ads?  Or, do you want Facebook to know less about you and have irrelevant ads in your news feed?  They know how to hook us!  Click on each of these to learn more about how Facebook uses your information to determine what ads you see.


Download Your Facebook Data


You may want to download your Facebook data to see what is there.  You can do that by going to this link.  Be patient.  It can take a while.


A number of Facebook users have been outraged to learn that Facebook had collected contact, call, and text metadata without their knowledge.  You may be surprised to find that Facebook has more data about you than you thought.



Check What Apps You Log Into With Facebook


You know those cute little surveys and quizzes that sometimes come across your news feed?  You may have loggd into some of those apps with your Facebook login.  If you are like me, you may not remember doing it.  If you did, your Facebook information is shared with those apps.  Click here to find out what apps and websites you have logged into with Facebook.  When I did, I found out I had logged into three apps.  Those doggone quizzes!  I will be removing those.


FB apps


How Was This Helpful?


Hopefully, you have gone through each of these steps, settings, and categories and made changes.  While you have limited what information can be used to target you for advertising with Facebook, the bottom line is that Facebook is continuing to mine your data.  Facebook does NOT allow you to opt out of data collection.  Their efforts, to date, have only resulted in providing users with more information about what they are mining from us. 


Being aware of the data that Facebook is collecting may help you to use Facebook more intentionally.  The only way you can control whether or not Facebook obtains information about you is to control how you interact with Facebook.


Despite how convenient it is to have everything presented to you in a news feed, every action you take results in data that can be collected by Facebook.  You may not mind, but if you do, you can be aware of the information you are providing in return for using Facebook.



What Else Can You Do?


There are a couple of additional things that you can do to limit what data Facebook can obtain from you.


If you’re concerned about Facebook having access to data gleaned from other websites, do not log in to other websites or services with your Facebook ID.  I know.  It is very convenient to do that!  Who wants to create thousands of passwords and then try to remember them?  Instead, of using your Facebook login, use a password manager, such as Dashlane, LastPass, or Roboform. Here is a PC Magazine review of the top rated password management software.  If you use only one device, Dashlane is free. (I have no connection to Dashlane.  I use a different password manager.)


You can review the apps you use that are connected to Facebook.


Find Out if Your Data Was Shared With Cambridge Analytica


As of April 10, 2018, Facebook is providing users with the ability to find out if their data was shared with Cambridge Analytica.  You must be logged in to Facebook.  To to this link.  You will see a report like the one in this image.  It looks like as though it is likely that some of my data, such as public profile, page likes, birthdate, and current city were shared.  There is also the possibility that more of my information may have been shared as a result of activity by my Facebook friends.


Image of whether my FB data was shared to Cambridge Analytica


Should I Stop Using Facebook?


It is up to you.  Some may feel that this is the way of the future.  Others may object to the prospect of being fed custom tailored information designed to manipulate thoughts, feelings, and actions. 


Unfortunately, right now there are few options for homeschoolers.  Email lists rarely have the level of activity and support for homeschoolers that can be found on Facebook.  


If you decide to stop using Facebook, you may want to download your Facebook data before you delete your account.  That way, you will still have access to information and photos that you uploaded.


Now What?


Here are some things to keep in mind:  


  • Facebook is free to users.  Facebook doesn’t owe us anything.  Facebook does not have our backs.  Facebook’s business is the mining and sale of data and so long as it is free, that will continue to be its business. 
  • Public trust in Facebook is at an all-time low.  Mark Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before Congress this week.  It is likely that there will be interest in future regulation. 
  • Facebook is a tool that homeschoolers have increasingly adopted to communicate with one another.  We may want to consider choosing alternative ways to connect, if at all possible.


Enrich will continue to use Facebook for now, because that is where so many homeschoolers are.  We encourage you to be aware and mindful in your use of Facebook.  We will also be exploring other alternatives.


What Do You Think?


Do you have thoughts on the Facebook data breach scandal?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments.  You’ll have to create an account to comment.  We don’t provide the option to use your Facebook login.