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Yahoo Finance answers: Should I quit Facebook?

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

No! Don’t quit Facebook. At least don’t quit if you feel you get something out of it.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg generated a flurry of media coverage when he testified before Congress on April 10 and 11. There was lots of talk of user data and privacy and abuse of said privacy. But there’s also a lot of confusion about what’s been going on at Facebook, and Yahoo Finance readers asked us to clarify some of this.

It’s important to understand that Facebook has not been the victim of a conventional hack. Nobody stole user data such as credit card numbers, bank information or anything that might cause financial harm. The whole thing is about who has access to Facebook data used to target ads, on Facebook itself, to Facebook users based on their interests.

Facebook has tightened its privacy policies, in response to the Cambridge Analytica revelations and other controversies. Users can tighten the use of their own data. Facebook explains how to do this, as do many other sites. Even if you do nothing, the worst thing that’s likely to happen is you get manipulative come-ons from ads or posts in your news feed.

If, on the other hand, you don’t use Facebook much and want to part ways, sure, delete your account. Here’s how.

Other questions from readers:

What were the main points of Zuckerberg’s answers? In his Congressional testimony, Zuckerberg spent a lot of time explaining how Facebook works to members of Congress who obviously weren’t very familiar with the social-media platform. But he did say a few things that are new. Facebook, for instance, will now vet anybody who runs a political ad on the platform, and provide more public information about who’s behind such ads. And it will verify that pages or accounts with a large number of followers are who they say they are. These and other moves ought to reduce the amount of fake accounts and deceptive activity on the platform.

Zuckerberg said Facebook doesn’t sell data. Then how do advertisers know whom to target? Obviously he is lying. Nope, he’s not lying. Facebook does have a ton of data on its users, since it records every like, share and other bit of activity that takes place on its site. Facebook gathers even more data when you use your Facebook account to log into other sites or apps. And it sometimes marries that with additional information it purchases or scrapes from commercial sources.

But Facebook keeps all that data to itself—which is one reason it has become a media and technology goliath. Advertisers that use Facebook tell the company what type of people they want to reach. They can specify location, demographic information, particular interests, and many other things. A travel provider, for instance, could tell Facebook it wants its ads to reach users who have the wanderlust and disposable income to take lavish trips. A snack company could have Facebook send ads to the 2.1 million people who like Frito-Lay’s Facebook page. All of that user data, in fact, might be more valuable internally than if Facebook sold it, because Facebook is the only company in the world that has it. In that way, Facebook really is a unique and formidable business.

Confidential tip line: rickjnewman@yahoo.com. Encrypted communication available.

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Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman

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