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A guide to escaping Facebook’s evil clutches without, erm, actually deleting it

What do you do if you don’t want to be a victim of Facebook’s mind control, but still really want to keep up to date with Sarah from Year Nine’s hen party? 

Earlier this week, leaked documents revealed Facebook can identify when teenagers feel “stressed”, “defeated” and “overwhelmed” and could use this information to target advertisements. According to The Australian, the social network told a top Australian bank that they could monitor young users’ emotional states and target them when they’re feeling insecure. Facebook claimed the report was misleading. Headlines ensued.

While it’s disturbing that Facebook can – and according to one ex-employee, does – do this, the technology involved isn’t the stuff of a harrowing dystopian novel. The report says Facebook can determine when young people feel “anxious”, “nervous”, “stupid”, “silly”, “useless” and a “failure” – to which, duh. It can most likely tell this because these are literally options on Facebook’s “Feeling” button (yep, even “useless”), which allows users to post a status about their emotional state. The most shocking thing about the report, then, is that teenagers are bothering to tell Facebook how they feel at all.

Facebook is dead. Not only do headlines like the above surface every week about the network’s dodgy dystopian dealings (here’s a list of every Facebook controversy in 2016), the site also simply isn’t cool. No one likes Facebook. No wants to be on Facebook. But we all keep using it.

Why? A Twitter search for the words “want to delete Facebook but” reveals a myriad of reasons. Some don’t want to lose pictures, others need to keep in touch with friends and family, others need it for their jobs, or to remember birthdays. Facebook is incredibly troubling – but it’s also incredibly useful, meaning all too often the “Delete Account” button remains untouched.

So what do you do if you don’t want Facebook to turn you into a puppet for its mind-control games, but still also really want to look at Sarah from Year Nine’s new baby to remind you that oh my God, babies really can look that weird?

1. Review what Facebook knows about you

Are you ready to be shocked? Visit www.facebook.com/ads/preferences to find out everything that Facebook knows about you (and uses to send you ads).

Under “Your interests”, click through the tabs such as “Hobbies and activities” and “Shopping and fashion” to view the very specific things Facebook knows. It can be very eerie (it knows I like the colour red, chicken nuggets, and Harry Potter) and also hilariously wrong (it thinks I like Prince Charles, a singular “eyelash”, and the sport curling).

Whether it’s right or wrong, the sheer amount Facebook knows is sure to unnerve. Under the “Your information” tab (scroll down from “Your interests”), the site knows what it defines as “Your categories” – things such as your political leanings, the devices you use, and how many close friends have their birthdays coming up. It knows that I have housemates, am a millennial, and am “close friends of ex-pats”.

2. Delete, delete, delete

Facebook knows all this stuff for three reasons. 1) Because you told them it by filling in your information, 2) because you told them it by Liking pages and sharing links, and 3) because it follows you across the web and tracks what you do and see.

1) and 2)  are pretty darn easy to solve. Delete anything from your profile that you don’t really need to be on there – such as your employment history, places you’ve lived, and schools. If you think “Hang on there, love, I want that stuff out there!” then take a second to remember that Facebook founder Mark Zuckberg once called its users “dumb fucks” for trusting him with their “emails, pictures, addresses” and other personal information.

Next delete this information from your ad preferences by clicking the little cross at the top of each image. Then, un-like all the random pages you most likely Liked back in 2007, when telling Facebook you enjoy Tango (Orange) was of the utmost importance. You’ll still see adverts – that’s the whole reason Facebook is free – but they’ll be less targeted and less, you know, creepy-invasions-of-privacy-y.

3. Change your settings

Good news! By clicking here you can change how Facebook targets ads towards you. You can make it so they can’t serve you adverts based on the sites you visit by turning the setting “Off”. You can also turn off Facebook adverts on other sites and make it so that none of your friends can see it when you click Like on an advertisement.

Under the “About you” section (within the “Your information” tab) you can also make it so Facebook can’t target adverts to you based on your job, relationship status, or education - simply toggle these options off. By clicking over to “Your categories” you can then click the little cross on the information it’s collected, so adverts aren’t targeted based on these details.

4. Don’t post emotional, revealing statuses

At the best of times, it’s not a good idea to post about how you hate Tim-from-work’s tuna sandwiches or how your lover lied to you about his ex, Sandra, and how Sandra is honestly, not even pretty, but you don’t want to talk about it, just inbox me ok?

So firstly, don’t, and secondly don’t use Facebook’s “Feeling” button to reveal your emotional state if you do. Also, if you can resist, don’t “Check In” to places you visit or reveal any information that, really, Facebook doesn’t need to know.

5. Turn off facial recognition, now

Looking for a plot for your dystopian novel? Well title it Reality and sell it in the non-fiction section, because Facebook can – and does – recognise your face in photos to allow people to tag them. To turn this off, visit your Settings, click “Timeline and tagging” and choose “No one” after the very last question on the page, “Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded?”

6. Update your Settings

While you’re there, make sure your privacy settings are as tight as then can be, and delete any apps that you no longer use but have attached to your Facebook account over the years. Next time you sign up for a new service, instead of going for the quick “Sign up with Facebook” option, register independently as a new user. It’s slower, but it limits the mammoth amount of information Facebook has about you.

You can also revoke Facebook's access to your phone and email contacts, so that it can stop recommending you friends based on who you text.

7. Block third-party cookies

Not the delicious kind (please keep eating the cookies provided at actual, real life birthday parties for three year olds). Cookies are text files which store information about the sites you’ve visited – which can be very useful for personalising your experiences on a site or remembering which items you put in your Amazon shopping basket. Pretty much every website uses cookies, but some sites – like Facebook – have cookies on other people’s sites (third-party cookies).

For example, if a page has a “Like us on Facebook” button, then Facebook will also be able to view these cookies, therefore tracking you across the web. The good news is that Safari blocks third-party cookies by default, but if you use Chrome or Firefox, you’ll have to do it yourself. Here’s an incredibly useful guide on how to block third-party cookies.

8. Keep your account, but don’t really use it

If you need Facebook to remember Aunty Judy’s birthday and keep up to date with events, then why bother updating your profile with your life decisions or photos of your face? Use your account for what you need it for, and little else.

9. Accept your culpability in the downfall of humanity and the eventual enslavement of the human race by Mark Zuckerberg

Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos.

 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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Marcus Hutchins: What we know so far about the arrest of the hero hacker

The 23-year old who stopped the WannaCry malware which attacked the NHS has been arrested in the US. 

In May, Marcus Hutchins - who goes by the online name Malware Tech - became a national hero after "accidentally" discovering a way to stop the WannaCry virus that had paralysed parts of the NHS.

Now, the 23-year-old darling of cyber security is facing charges of cyber crime following a bizarre turn of events that have left many baffled. So what do we know about his indictment?

Arrest

Hutchins, from Ilfracombe in Devon, was reportedly arrested by the FBI in Las Vegas on Wednesday before travelling back from cyber security conferences Black Hat and Def Con.

He is now due to appear in court in Las Vegas later today after being accused of involvement with a piece of malware used to access people's bank accounts.

"Marcus Hutchins... a citizen and resident of the United Kingdom, was arrested in the United States on 2 August, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada, after a grand jury in the Eastern District of Wisconsin returned a six-count indictment against Hutchins for his role in creating and distributing the Kronos banking Trojan," said the US Department of Justice.

"The charges against Hutchins, and for which he was arrested, relate to alleged conduct that occurred between in or around July 2014 and July 2015."

His court appearance comes after he was arraigned in Las Vegas yesterday. He made no statement beyond a series of one-word answers to basic questions from the judge, the Guardian reports. A public defender said Hutchins had no criminal history and had previously cooperated with federal authorities. 

The malware

Kronos, a so-called Trojan, is a kind of malware that disguises itself as legitimate software while harvesting unsuspecting victims' online banking login details and other financial data.

It emerged in July 2014 on a Russian underground forum, where it was advertised for $7,000 (£5,330), a relatively high figure at the time, according to the BBC.

Shortly after it made the news, a video demonstrating the malware was posted to YouTube allegedly by Hutchins' co-defendant, who has not been named. Hutchins later tweeted: "Anyone got a kronos sample."

His mum, Janet Hutchins, told the Press Association it is "hugely unlikely" he was involved because he spent "enormous amounts of time" fighting attacks.

Research?

Meanwhile Ryan Kalember, a security researcher from Proofpoint, told the Guardian that the actions of researchers investigating malware may sometimes look criminal.

“This could very easily be the FBI mistaking legitimate research activity with being in control of Kronos infrastructure," said Kalember. "Lots of researchers like to log in to crimeware tools and interfaces and play around.”

The indictment alleges that Hutchins created and sold Kronos on internet forums including the AlphaBay dark web market, which was shut down last month.

"Sometimes you have to at least pretend to be selling something interesting to get people to trust you,” added Kalember. “It’s not an uncommon thing for researchers to do and I don’t know if the FBI could tell the difference.”

It's a sentiment echoed by US cyber-attorney Tor Ekeland, who told Radio 4's Today Programme: "I can think of a number of examples of legitimate software that would potentially be a felony under this theory of prosecution."

Hutchins could face 40 years in jail if found guilty, Ekelend said, but he added that no victims had been named.

This article also appears on NS Tech, a new division of the New Statesman focusing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Oscar Williams is editor of the NewStatesman's sister site NSTech.