What does Facebook know about you?

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Facebook allows you to download an archive file of all your interactions with the network. It’s an easy process that your grandmother (or granddaughter) can do.

The download will arrive as a .zip file, and inside the .zip, lies an ‘index.html’ page that acts as a portal to your personal data. Visually, it looks like an ad-free stripped down version of Facebook that’s actually not as annoying as Facebook itself.

Most tech-savvy friends I know have already stopped wasting their time on Facebook, leaving that to people with too much time on their hands. Aside from people posting inane things like what they had for breakfast, photos of their puppies and kitties, and where their next vacation is… the real world use is limited. You want to tell somebody something? Pick up the phone and call them.

But the real concern isn’t just about what people waste their time posting, it’s about what Facebook is collecting and storing about its users. If you thought Google was the Big Monster of Internet privacy, Facebook has now surpassed it in the area of data collection. At least Google is now pulling back some on its Internet data collection policies.

In the end, it all comes down to what is tracked and what can be deduced from that.

If you use Facebook, then you must understand that you have given up on privacy

Everything you expect is in that download: your profile, statuses, messages, friends, likes, photos, videos, comments, events. All of it in a convenient zip file.

There’s a lot of material depending on long you have been participating, and how much time you spend there, and you could sift it for hours. Most of the content is unsurprising but there are a few notable facts that are worth mentioning.

Quite simply, Facebook never deletes anything. Unfriended friends, past relationships, former employers, previous names, address book … you name it.

All of your actions have been recorded since the day you created your account. For the first time in history, years of consistent human behavior have been meticulously gathered, stored & analyzed.

Exhaustive metadata about all of your photos

Whenever you post a photo to Facebook, it keeps a record of all the data that’s attached to it. That seems quite obvious but I didn’t suspect it was so detailed. Yes, it’s all in there: Camera Maker, Model, Orientation, Exposure, F-Stop, ISO Speed, Focal Length, Latitude, Longitude & Upload IP Address

Abundant log-in & session data points

Every time you open Facebook, the time, location, IP address, browser & device have been recorded. If you’re part of the 1.4B people that use Facebook on a daily basis, they have enough data points to determine your everyday life patterns with great accuracy: home and work address, daily commute, wake up & bed time, travel duration & destination, etc.

Flawless facial recognition

How does it know you? Well, every time you post a photo it connects that photo to you and your account. How many variations of your face and/or body does Facebook have? Have a photo with others in it? You’re adding to an enormous, user-driven wealth of knowledge and data. Everyday, billions of people are telling an algorithm what their face looks like, from different angles, at different ages and in different light conditions.

The result? Facebook allegedly said that its image recognition models could recognize human faces with 98% accuracy & that it could identify a person in one picture out of 800 million in less than five seconds.

Detailed contact list

When you install Facebook’s app on your phone, you give it the right to see your contact list. Once that’s done, Facebook keeps ALL your contacts information forever.

And you know how they say you can be connected to most anybody in the world through just seven people? Well, Facebook knows that and its algorithms use it to easily connect your friends together whether you have them in your Friend list or not. And if you do … then you are contributing to the privacy violation of your friends as well.

There’s no sneaky move here: the opt-in process on your phone is actually pretty clear about that. But seeing the phone numbers, emails & addresses of everyone you know (or knew) listed on Facebook can be bit disturbing.

What about advertising?

Facebook’s main revenue sources are ads served by their powerful targeting engine using custom audiences built for advertisers.

The thing is, Facebook has been purposely mysterious about what type of information they share with third parties.

But looking at Facebook Business platform provides some details about what info is used in custom audiences targeting: email, phone number, first name, last name, city, state, country, date of birth, age & gender.

So Facebook has a lot of data about you & it shares it with a lot of advertisers: but why should you care?

“Bring the world closer…” they say …

I used to think there was no real drawback in ceding a lot of personal data to a 3rd party. After all, I get a free service that’s pleasant to use & really helpful. At least that’s the line they use to convince us their service is worthy of our time.

Eventually, the harm potential really depends on 2 factors: the intentions & means of action of the organization that harvests your data.

That’s where Facebook gets really frightening: it’s hugely powerful & its only objective is to maximize the time spent & interactions made with its platform (just look at its financial KPI’s).

Don’t be fooled by the “bring the world closer together” motto: if Facebook is here, it’s only to make money by selling ads. And to do that, they must target — in the most precise manner — the highest possible amount of eyeballs.

What about the Government?

Well, if our government, or any government for that matter, wanted to massively increase the data it collected about its citizens, then social platforms already have that data collected. Still reeling over the revelations from Edward Snowden? More and more people are catching on. Big Government and Big Business are literally spying on us.

Ok, so how to get your data?

Big social networks now allow their users to download a backup file of everything they’ve ever posted.

To download your Facebook backup, just follow the 3 steps described here. Facebook will send you an email once your backup’s ready (it usually takes less than 10 minutes).

Be Safe – Backup Your Data Regularly!

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