How to protect your privacy on Facebook

March 29, 2018

Imagine overhearing the following conversation:

Company X:I’d like you to give me access to your personal data (email, birthday, address, etc.), a list of a hundred of your friends, family, and acquaintances, and permission to use that information in whatever way I choose”

 Individual Y: “And what do I get in return?”

Company X: “You get to take a quiz that tells you what Lord of Rings character you are.”

Individual Y: “Sounds like a fair trade.”

You might think that no one would be foolish enough to engage in such an exchange. But I have. And if you use Facebook, chances are you have too. But even if you’ve never taken an online quiz or accepted a game request, your friends may have given away your private information.

Last week the New York Times reported that British data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica had “harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission.” As law professor Andrew Keane Woods explains,

The data that Cambridge Analytica obtained seems to have come from Aleksandr Kogan, a researcher at Cambridge University who convinced hundreds of thousands of Facebook users to take a Facebook-linked personality quiz—thereby granting Kogan access, through Facebook’s developer platform, to a treasure trove of user data. Kogan then shared this information with Cambridge Analytica. . . .

Only about 270,000 people took the quiz, so how did Kogan get information from 50 million user profiles? Facebook offers a popular feature called Facebook Login, which lets people simply log in to a website or app using their Facebook account instead of creating new credentials. In 2015, developers who created apps that used Facebook Login were allowed—with Facebook’s permission—to collect some information on the users network of friends. According to the Times, Kogan was able to use the data gleaned from the friends profiles to match users to other records and build psychographic profiles. 

Earlier this week we also learned that for several years Facebook has been collecting call records and text-messaging data from Android devices. The company denies it was collecting the data without permission, that it was an “opt-in” feature, that it “helps you find and stay connected with the people you care about, and provides you with a better experience across Facebook.” Still, the concerns have led the Federal Trade Commission to launch a nonpublic investigation into the Facebook’s privacy practices.

When people think about social media ethics (if they ever think about it at all), we tend to focus solely on the content that is directly posted or shared. We may worry, for instance, whether we are passing along gossip or “fake news.” What we rarely worry about is whether we are breaching the trust of our friends, family, and neighbors by exposing their personal information without their permission.

Here are a few simple suggestions for how you can protect your privacy—and the privacy of your neighbors—when using the world’s most popular social media platform.

Consider limiting who you “Friend”

Have you ever wondered why Facebook and other social media sites publicly display the number of “friends” or “followers” you have? Why isn’t that information that only you can see? The reason is because we humans are competitive, and overly concerned with status ranking.

Online social networks like Facebook often use gamification—the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts—to increase engagement. A simple example is showing the number of “friends.” When you see your friends have more “friends” than you, it provokes envy and sparks your competitive nature. You become more inclined to accept “friend requests” from strangers or remote acquaintances out of a desire to maintain your own status relative to others.

From Facebook’s perspective, the increase in your number of “friends” is a win-win: You get the minor pleasure of feeling influential, while the company gains major influence by increasing their network effect (i.e., the interconnectedness makes their product more valuable).

Even those who aren’t especially competitive, though, can feel the social pressure to add more “friends.” Many Facebook users (including me) develop the habit of accepting almost every request we receive because it seems rude to reject an offer of online friendship. After all, on the other end of the digital request is an actual human. They might take offense or think we are snobby. We don’t want to be rude and, after all, it just requires us to click “Accept.” What harm could there be in being friendly?

This latest data breach, however, shows the danger. You’re allowing the new person to pass along a wide range of your personal data. As Ben Thompson explains, an old Facebook developer page shows  their API would allow developers to access not only to user account information, but also huge amounts of friend account information, such as their interests, religion, politics, relationship status, etc.

 Why expand our exposure by allowing people we don’t even know to be able to access and share your data simply because we’re trying to be polite?

Recommendation: Consider going through your “Friends” list and de-“friending” any names you do not recognize. If you don’t remember who they are they probably don’t need access to your personal information. 

Next, consider limiting which of your remaining friends can see your posts. To do this click on “Settings” and then “Privacy.” Under “Privacy Settings and Tools” you can restrict who sees such information as your future posts, past posts, friends lists, friends requests, your email address, your phone number, etc.

Be wary of trusting your friend’s “friends”

To increase the effect of social pressure and encourage you to accept friend requests, Facebook also shows how many “mutual friends” you share. Accepting a request a “friend of a friend” seems safer since the person has presumably been vetted by someone we know and trust. Unfortunately, for the reasons listed above, our friends are likely to be accepting numerous random requests, making their associations an unreliable gauge of trustworthiness.

 (About once a month I get a friend request from what appears to be an attractive young women (NB: They’re almost certainly neither women nor young) whose only activity on Facebook is a few recent posts of scantily clothed selfies. It’s the most obvious sort of catfishing, and yet invariably a number of men I know are listed as “mutual friends.”)

Recommendation: Before accepting a request from a “mutual friend,” take a few minutes to read the requestor’s profile and determine whether there is a reason to add them to your social media circle.

Know how third-party apps are using your information

Whenever you use a third-party app on Facebook to play a game or take a quiz you are giving an outside group or company access to your person information. As Facebook clearly explains:

Keep in mind when you install an app, you give it permission to access your public profile, which includes your name, profile pictures, username, user ID (account number), networks and any info you choose to make publicly available. You also give the app other info to personalize your experience, including your friends list, gender, age range and locale.

Recommendation: You can easily revoke access permissions of Facebook apps. To do this go to “Settings” and select “Apps.” You’ll see a list titled “Logged in with Facebook.” If you hover your cursor over each app you’ll see a pencil icon. Click that to edit the settings for that app.

You can also automatically remove access to your account by all those apps in one easy step. Go to “Settings” and select “Apps.” Scroll down until you see “Apps, Websites and Plugins.” Click the “Edit” button and the click “Disable Platform.”

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is the author of The Life and Faith Field Guide for Parents, the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible, and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. He also serves as an executive pastor at the McLean Bible Church Arlington location in Arlington, Virginia. Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24