Facebook has been under fire recently for mishandling information of millions of users. A firm was able to manipulate data Facebook had of its users which is a problem in itself. However, the bigger concern at hand was that why was Facebook keeping tabs of what we do? It may not seem like it but Facebook tracks almost everything we do, on and off their site.
Facebook keeps tabs on a lot of things about its users through a lot of different ways. Ever wondered how something you search on the internet ends up showing up on your Facebook in the form of an ad? That’s how efficient Facebook is in its tracking. Through the use of third-party cookies and other third-party applications that ask for your Facebook information, Facebook is able to gather a lot of data about you. For example, if you search on Google for something or if you press “Log in with Facebook” on any website, then not only is your data now available for the other website, but Facebook can also see what you do on that website.
It’s not just your activity either that’s being monitored. Even Facebook themselves recently admitted to logging phone call and message histories of some Android users who installed Facebook’s messenger app or a lighter version of their app. This is secretly done when you give Facebook’s app permission to sync contacts with the app. Facebook released a statement revealing all of this after multiple users start pointing out how Facebook keeps a track of everything. Although Facebook has also stated that they have no bad intentions with the data they receive, someone else might. Moreover, it’s very alarming how we just agree to let sites like Facebook access our private data without even noticing it.
However, Facebook is still not telling the entire story. The website stores every single transaction you’ve had since the day you signed up. This includes every time you’ve logged in and out, the ads you’ve clicked, events you’ve been invited to etc. Facebook knows each and everything about you and as the expression goes: “they know more about you than your own mother”.
For example, if you go to Facebook settings from your account and click on “ads”, then you’ll come to a page that contains a lot of information about your “interests”.
In the above photo, it can be argued that most of these could have been fetched through my liked pages on the website. However, I rarely follow any Final Fantasy pages or Hip Hop music or anything related to Fortnite on Facebook, yet they’re all there. Why? I listen to a lot of Hip-Hop music (so i naturally search a lot), I watch a lot of Youtube videos on Hip Hop music and Fortnite, hence why they’re all there. But wait, there’s more.
In this photo, it says I liked a page related to Malware. However, I haven’t followed any page recently at all. Instead, I was searching on google with regards to removing this trojan from my computer a few days ago, and this shows up on my Facebook. This is how the website not only tracks your activity on its own platform using the multiple devices you use to access it, but it also tracks you across the web too.
Most of this is done using third-party cookies. A detailed explanation regarding all of this can be found here. Yes, Facebook can track you across different websites, however, that is not the extent to which you’re being watched by Facebook. The website stores more than just calls and messages and it’s not limited to Android users, which is what Facebook would want you to believe. Not many people know how much data Facebook has on them because these settings are safely tucked away in places the casual user rarely visits.
You can actually find out what Facebook has stored about you by downloading the data archive from Facebook settings. It’s really frightening the amount of data they have on you. For me, it was a 4.1 GB COMPRESSED zip file worth of data. It contains everything dating back to when I first started using Facebook. It has a lot of private data about us. For example:
All of these HTML files contain exactly what the filenames say. It has the exact number and time instances of when a user has been poked, whether they posted or shared or were tagged in any videos and much more. One of these files is particularly interesting as it shows how using Facebook across different devices really adds to their database. The “app” HTML file contains a long list of apps you’ve downloaded on your smartphone devices.
The weird bit is, most of these apps aren’t linked to Facebook at all yet the website was able to pick up a lot of the apps that I’ve downloaded over the years on my Android device(s). It doesn’t there, Facebook has all your recent and old messages alongside any photos/videos you’ve uploaded/shared or commented on. For people who’ve synced their SMS messages and calls with Facebook, their call and text history also goes to the social networking website. It’s shocking to see how much data the website has about you, without you ever noticing.
What Facebook wants to achieve with all this data is anyone’s guess. However, an educated guess would be to use all this information to find out people’s interests and behavior patterns. This information is valuable for advertisers who can then target specific people for their products which they know would surely click on their ads.
If you wish to check out what data Facebook has about you, head over to Facebook and go to “Settings”. Once there, click on “Download a copy of your Facebook data”. Click on “Download Archive”, it’ll take a few minutes to prepare your archive. Once it’s ready, you’ll receive a Facebook notification indicating that it’s ready. Download the data and see for yourself the astounding amount of data Facebook has.
Despite what the people behindFacebook say, they know a lot more than they are willing to reveal. This is why Facebook is free to use, because user information and preference are given to advertisers who then target users accordingly. That might be fine to an extent, but when data falls into the hands of other firms such as the recent case with CA, things can be bad.
As a result, Facebook is now looking to restrict the access many other applications have to your data. The company is also auditing many developers who picked up any suspicious data. However, whatever actions Facebook takes, remember that they know and see everything their users do.