Security

As Cambridge Analytica closes shop, Facebook adds privacy tools

TechRepublic's Dan Patterson appeared on CBSN to discuss whether Facebook's new Clear History feature can help regain users' confidence.

TechRepublic's Dan Patterson appeared on CBSN and spoke to host Vladimir Duthiers about the Cambridge Analytica shut down and how Facebook is trying to win back users' confidence.

Duthiers: In "PrivacyWatch," the data firm Cambridge Analytica is shutting down following the scandal involving 87 million Facebook users. Cambridge Analytica says in a statement it will immediately cease all operations after being "vilified for activities that are not only legal, but also widely accepted." It added that, "The siege of media coverage has driven away virtually all the company's customers and suppliers."

The company, which had ties to President Trump's campaign, will now seek bankruptcy protection. Facebook's investigation into its connection to Cambridge Analytica will continue despite the company closing down.

Here to discuss is TechRepublic's senior reporter, Dan Patterson. Good to see you.

Patterson: Good to see you.

Duthiers: So Cambridge Analytica, this closure is not a surprise, but Facebook will likely continue working with companies that are very similar to what Cambridge Analytica is, was. Has Facebook been equally punished in the way that Cambridge Analytica has been?

Patterson: Well, Facebook is kind of like the Microsoft of social media, and Zuckerberg's F8 speech sounded a lot like Steve Ballmer's, "Developers, developers, developers." This, of course, kind of foreshadowed the downturn of Microsoft, and, for Facebook, they need developers. So that's what Zuckerberg focused on in this scandal, and what he focused on at F8.

The important thing to realize here is that developers and data are the core of Facebook's business, so whether Facebook has been punished or not, they certainly have taken a turn in the Microsoft-type of direction in terms of their brand. I suspect that, just like their stock, their brand could rebound a little bit, but it won't be the same thing it was before the scandal.

Duthiers: So you mentioned the F8, let's talk about some of the features updates that Mark Zuckerberg unveiled recently.

He unveiled one in particular called the Clear History feature. That is going to allow people to clear anybody or any entity that's tracking them, that has been tracking them. Is this just to allow people to feel as if they can control their data, and it really doesn't change the game all that much?

Patterson: Yes, this is a feel-good move much like a magician, look at what the left hand is doing. Pay no mind to what's happening in the right hand. On the one hand, it's good to see Facebook doing maneuvers like this. The button will take a couple months for the company to develop and sure, it's a nice thing to have. Of course, you already have that in your Chrome or your Firefox, your web browser when you clear cache and cookies. Facebook says it will delete "their database record of you." There aren't a lot of specifics on what that clearing of the database will do, and of course, as soon as you log back in and start creating data again, you set a new cookie and you start the process again.

Duthiers: Right.

Why not just again, Dan, it goes back to what we've talked about for quite some time, just have a all-in, opt-out feature where you sign up for Facebook and right upfront it tells you if you don't wanna be tracked, if you don't wanna share any data, click this button and that's it. You don't have to worry about anything, you don't have to go in your app's feature or function, just one big, red opt-out button.

SEE: Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Trump: What you need to know (CNET)

Patterson: Well that would be nice, but it would also be something that undermines Facebook's inherent business model. What Facebook is doing, and what many companies do, is not inherently bad. It's kind of like when a child tells a lie. If they had just been honest about the data they shared about not just you, but your friends and your friend's friends, it would be a lot easier to say, "Okay, we understand what you're doing and why you're doing it. Maybe we want some restrictions, but we understand what you're doing." Now they have these piles of features, on features, on features that really, at the end of the day, don't protect you any more than before the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Duthiers: Mm-hmm (affirmative), all right.

So could the clear profile function be obsolete at some point if there are shadow profiles that are created, if people create shadow profiles?

Patterson: So the shadow profile is something that A, Mark Zuckerberg denied knowledge of its existence, but B-

Duthiers: Do you believe him?

Patterson: Well, whether we believe Mr. Zuckerberg or not, what we do know is that when you say, install the messenger app on your phone and it asks you to sync your contacts, a bunch of those contacts aren't in Facebook but they do get stored in Facebook's database. Facebook then acquires data from second-party vendors, these are partners. Like all business-to-business relationships, Facebook buys data and integrates it, and third-party data. This is data acquired elsewhere from other places. I put air quotes around that, but from other places on the web.

So if we say shadow profile then Mr. Zuckerberg can say, "We don't have a shadow profile." What they do have are not just one database, but many databases with many data points about you whether you're a Facebook user or not.

Duthiers: Dan Patterson, always good to have you here to break this all down for us. We really appreciate it, thanks for stopping by.

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About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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