Facebook has spent the past few weeks barfing bucket-loads of information onto the world in an effort to get out ahead of the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal that has rocked the social network to its soulless husk of a core. But it has remained obnoxiously mum on one key bit of information: the name of the hapless fool who personally got me into this never-ending clusterfuck.
In today’s grab-bag of slimy treasures, we learned that the Facebook data shared with Cambridge Analytica through a quiz app called This Is Your Digital Life may include “posts and messages from you.” That’s according to a tool Facebook released yesterday that lets you check whether your information was exposed by the over-sharing app.
This is yet another damning detail to add to the burn pile on top of profile data—birthdays, places of residence, and potentially users’ hometowns—personal information that, if we’re honest with ourselves, we abandoned as our own the moment we signed up for a Facebook account.
For a brief moment, I thought I might slip through the cracks given that I am picky about whom I add as a friend on Facebook and the general privacy-consciousness of the company I keep. Of course, that was stupid. Eighty-seven million of us are impacted by this entirely predictable debacle, and I am no exception.
So, since Facebook is in the sharing mood, I would kindly ask that the company tell us all which of our friends thought using an app that scraped a wealth of personal data from tens of millions of people was a good idea. I would like to know so I can unfriend that person and hold a mild grudge against them for the rest of my life.
Facebook did not answer when I asked whether it would tell me who used the app (which, of course it didn’t—that would be a privacy violation.)
Facebook told Wired (and later in an email to me) that, while This Is Your Digital Life did request users’ permission to access their inboxes—which, like, why the fuck would you use the app then?—it rescinded that functionality across its entire platform in late 2015. That may sound good, but it means it’s not necessarily just users of This Is Your Digital Life who granted some third-party app access to their messages, but any app that tossed that permission into its list of approved privacy violations. It’s entirely possible we’ll hear about more of these apps in the coming weeks and months, as Facebook investigates apps that “had access to large amounts of information,” as Mark Zuckerberg told members of Congress today.
I’ve been covering online privacy issues for the better part of a decade. I actually read terms of service like some maniac. And I generally treat anything that involves the internet—and social media in particular—as de facto public information. Even if something is meant to be private, there are far too many data breaches to put much faith in digital communications remaining secret forever.
All of which is to say, I’ve tried my best to be careful about the information I put online. But as we now know, no matter how careful you are, our privacy is at the mercy of other people, from Mark Zuckerberg to my mystery “friend” who thought giving some random app full access to their private communications was a perfectly acceptable thing to do.
To be fair to my friend—and the rest of the 1,500 people Facebook says added This Is Your Digital Life—it is virtually impossible to decipher what information you’re handing over when you use Facebook or its connected apps. And it’s impossible to know what might come from doing so. But given all we know now, it’s safe to assume that none of us have been spared from the consequences of connecting with one another, inextricably entwining our collective lives, as dumb and boring as they may be.
Update 4:30pm: A Facebook spokesperson supplied a comment but did not answer whether it would out the people who used the This Is Your Digital Life app.