Social media: What Facebook knows about you
Facebook knows far more about you than you probably understand, said Natasha Singer in The New York Times. The data that users voluntarily supply—age, relationship status, employer, location—is just the tip of the iceberg. Facebook methodically scrutinizes “the minutiae” of its 2.2 billion users’ online lives, and its cyberstalking “stretches far beyond the company’s well-known targeted ads.” It regularly tracks the websites and apps that users visit, thanks to its “ubiquitous Like and Share buttons” and to invisible monitoring code that’s dropped onto other websites. It collects “biometric facial data” for photo tagging without asking for “opt-in consent.” And it shares granular insight about its users’ interests and activities with advertisers, to help buttress its $40.6 billion–a-year ad business. “The inner workings of Facebook’s data-harvesting behemoth are so byzantine,” said Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal, that even Mark Zuckerberg appeared confused last week about how it all works. Facebook has “a lot more data about us than it lets on,” giving it an excellent chance of knowing “everything from your wealth to whether you are depressed.”
Last month I downloaded the data Facebook had stored on me since 2004 and discovered that the social network has “an impeccable memory,” said Sara Ashley O’Brien in CNN.com. The phone number of my late grandmother, “who never had a Facebook account, or even an email address,” was there, as well as cringeworthy Messenger conversations with my ex. I learned that dozens of advertisers have my contact info, including some sites “I had never heard of.” Facebook still “doesn’t make it particularly easy” for users to adjust their privacy settings, said Jen Kirby in Vox.com. You can see “which third parties have your data,” and, to a certain extent, tweak the amount of data individual apps can access. But because Facebook is fundamentally an advertising company, “there’s no real way to turn off the spigot completely.” You can block the site from showing you ads based on your browsing history, but that won’t stop Facebook from continuing to track the sites you visit.
The furor over Facebook shows that we are only just beginning to understand how Silicon Valley “collects and treats personal information,” said Brian Chen in The New York Times. I recoiled when I opened my Facebook data file and saw my entire phone book, a log of each time I’d opened Facebook over the past two years, and a list of more than 110 people I’d unfriended. But expansive data mining is not unique to Facebook. You’d be wise to look through the data files from all your social media and online accounts, including Google and LinkedIn. But a warning: “Once you see the vast amount of data that has been collected about you, you won’t be able to unsee it.”