As far as I know, I never took “thisisyourdigitallife,” the personality quiz that researcher Aleksandr Kogan used to harvest 50 million Facebook profiles which he then turned over to Cambridge Analytica, the voter-profiling company that worked on the 2016 Trump campaign. But as details of this story emerged over the weekend, I was moved to check out which third-party apps I had given access to my Facebook data over the years. (Here’s my colleague Marcus Baram’s tip on how to pull up your own list.)
I can’t say that what I found stunned me, because … well, I didn’t know what to expect. But it turned out that I’ve given 300+ apps and services permission to rummage around in my Facebook data over the years.
They break down into some broad categories:
- Things that don’t exist anymore–lots of them–such as Aardvark, AOL Instant Messenger, Bizzy, Blekko, Bump, DeHood, Editions by AOL, Everpix, Katango, Kin (yes, the Microsoft phone), Picplz, Rdio, Roamz, Sparrow, Sprig, Tello, Weotta, and Zite.
- Things that I use, but that don’t really need access to my Facebook, including Arrow, B&H, Expedia, Hipmunk, Lyft, Pocket, Shazam, StubHub, Todoist, Vudu, and others.
- Things I used at some point in the past but no longer care about, at least on an ongoing basis, like Aha, Google Glass (don’t laugh), HotelTonight, Lytro, Misfit, MyAudi (which I used for two days when I rented an Audi), Pearltrees, RebelMouse, ScribbleLive, SlideShare, Talkatone, Zaarly, Zoho, and more farm-related games than I care to mention.
- Things I can’t identify without further research, among them 3millioncats, Calliflower Online, Fast Pro, Flick_Launch, Friend Interview, Friends Reunited, Grovo, LikeWise, MT104, MyBantu, PAULtheapp, Phone Dream, Qwisk, Seek or Shout, SnackTools, Social Interview, and Wordscraper.
How about things that I know I want to be connected to Facebook? There are shockingly few of them. I granted Twitter access so it could push my Tweets into my Facebook news feed. I’m happy to allow apps like Nuzzel and Patreon to see my Facebook friends so I can find them on those respective services. And Ancestry grabs photos from my relatives on Facebook and adds them to my family tree, which is nice. That’s about it, though.
Now, I don’t have any reason to suspect that anyone at any of the 333 apps and services I’ve permitted to poke around my Facebook has used it for underhanded purposes, as researcher Kogan is alleged to have done. But the fact that I can’t even remember some of the names on my list tells me that I haven’t taken the whole matter seriously enough. I clicked without thinking. Over and over. For years.
Here’s what I’m going to do henceforth:
- I’m going to dramatically prune that list. If I don’t currently use something in conjunction with Facebook, I’m going to disconnect it, which is easy to do from the dashboard which shows you what you’ve connected in the past.
- I’m going to be careful about logging into other apps and services using my Facebook account. Not that doing so is inherently risky. But it’s a large part of how I ended up with so much detritus plugged into Facebook that I rarely if ever use.
- I’m going to think of myself as a primary steward of my Facebook data. Whether or not you buy Facebook’s perspective on the Cambridge Analytica mess–which seems to absolve itself of blame, since Kogan allegedly misled the company when he bulk-extracted data from profiles—it’s a reminder that it’s impossible to know for sure where your profile details, likes, and other go once you grant access to them. That’s an argument in favor of being picky about who gets that honor.
So help me, I like Facebook and have no intention of leaving it or even grinding my activity down to the bare minimum. But with very few exceptions, the value I get out of it is created by my friends and acquaintances posting stuff I care about. Almost everything else is dispensable–and my plan is to start dispensing with some of it.