Guest post by Maria Pike
It’s been all over the news and online forums – Facebook (and not only them) collects all kinds of information about you. Usually, without you knowing. They then go on to use that data in ways that are not always in line with our expectations or consent.
Without knowing, you’ve been providing Facebook with fodder every single time you’ve logged on. All your activity – including posts, photos, friends, groups, comments, likes, interests, etc. can and will be used against you. Perhaps that’s a little dramatic. Let’s find out more about what Facebook knows about you, where they get their info from, and what you can do about it.
Where does Facebook get your data?
Your first question is probably related to where, exactly, Facebook is getting all this information about you. In short, you’re providing Facebook with all it needs by just using the site like you normally do. Every single step you take tells Facebook something about you.
So, the things you “Like”, what you post, the things you look for online, the games you play, the pages you visit, and the apps you use (like Instagram or Whatsapp) are all used to track your activity and create a sort of individualized profile.
This tells Facebook what kind of person you are, what you like, etc. Based on this information you provide (knowingly or not), they can even predict other things about you. Yes, it’s a little creepy.
What happens with the data they collect?
Okay, so remember that “profile” they create, based on the information they track? They label you and group you together with others like you and then they sell access to your information to other companies. Technically, they’re not selling your information directly (or so they say), but they are granting access to these groups. Told you it would be creepy.
You see, all this information is incredibly valuable. No matter how mundane it is for you (commenting on a friend’s photo, liking a recipe, joining a group, etc.), all this activity can be used to determine what can be sold to you. Yep, it all comes down to selling you stuff. Or rather, targeting you for ads.
You will be shown ads based on the profile companies like Facebook create. That makes more money for everyone – both Facebook and the companies who pay for access.
What information does Facebook collect?
Let’s talk a bit about the information Facebook collects.
- Calls & Messages
Do you have the Messenger app on your phone? Because if you do, you’re probably actively giving Facebook permission to access your contacts, calls, and messages. If you think they record these calls, you’d be correct. Of course, it has been denied in the past, but the public doesn’t exactly trust Mark Zuckerberg.
Pick the Facebook events you “attend” very carefully, because Facebook records this to your profile forever and then uses this info when creating that persona. If you don’t want to get ads for baby formula until you want to die, maybe skip “attending” someone’s virtual baby shower or stuff like that.
- Comments & Posts
Are you surprised that they track everyone’s behavior when it comes to posting and commenting? They want to see how you use Facebook in order to improve the experience for you. It is based on this kind of activity that the site makes one of their infamous changes.
Believe it or not, Facebook is even interested in who your friends are. Including your great aunt Judith, the high-school classmate who dropped out in sophomore year, and the random strangers who friended you. Based on this hodge-podge social circle you’ve put together, Facebook lands you in a group and sells that info forward.
Of course, your stated (or inferred) interests would make a prime target for the data harvesters. They’re a fountain of rich information about the best ads to target you for. That may make you think twice about listing obscure rock bands from the 80s as your interests.
Even your location can be valuable to companies, no matter how benign it seems. Besides being exceedingly creepy (Facebook pretty much knows where you are, even if you don’t tell them), it also potentially targets you for in-person, real-life fliers and ads delivered to your door. Not great.
- Online activity
It’s not even just what you post on Facebook that’s putting you “at-risk” or making you a target, either. All your online activity is being tracked and used for ideal ad placement. The more they know about you, the more accurately they can plan on taking your money.
You should probably already know that any photos you post on Facebook are fair game – and if you don’t, consider this your official warning. In plain English, that means that theoretically, Facebook could be using your photos in whatever way it wants – to advertise their site, to advertise other sites, they can sell them, they can show them to anyone, etc. Think about that next time you upload that drunk photo from your wild night out.
While you’re the one stating your interests, your likes denote interests indirectly. Everything you “like” on Facebook says something about you, what you’re looking for, what you desire, etc. It’s basically a golden ticket for advertisers trying to pin down a certain customer profile.
- Related app activity (Whatsapp, Instagram)
In case you didn’t know, Facebook also owns other apps, including the ever-popular Whatsapp and Instagram. And yes, they’re tracking and using your activity here, as well.
How can you protect your data?
Okay, enough horrifying news. We get it, Facebook owns you. Is there anything you can do about it? Yes, yes there is. Privacy settings go a long way, so you’d better learn to love them.
But most importantly of all, make sure to go check the settings when you install an app – be it Facebook or something else – more often than not, the default is to grant them access to all sorts of data on your phone. You can go and change that right off the bat, to prevent data collection.
However, you must also have realistic expectations. Data collection is just a fact of life nowadays, and companies get their hands on your information in one way or another. If you participate in normal, everyday digital activity, you are likely to have your data collected.
So, what have we learned from this? Nothing and no one is safe from Facebook’s gaze and reach. Everything you put out there – including posts, likes, or just plain activity is going to be used in ways you can’t even imagine.
The only way to escape this is to not play, in the first place (so, not having a Facebook account, or any of the related apps). But thankfully, there are also things you can do to minimize the damage, so to speak.
Maria is a writer and blogger who is especially interested in social media. She loves to share her knowledge in social media hoping readers will be more knowledgeable with the hidden aspects of it.