It’s difficult, if not impossible, for many to imagine a life without Facebook. The social media site has become a sort of international pastime, albeit a controversial one.
Aside from all the time-wasting, as well as the questionable ideological underpinnings of the company itself, there have always been privacy issues surrounding Facebook. It’s something that’s said so often it’s become a sort of bromide, but it’s still true: When it comes to Facebook, you (and your information) are the product.
So, how much information does Facebook take from you? Well, to start with, would you believe that their reach goes far enough that they can track you even if you don’t have an account?
As reported by the U.K. Daily Mail, “the largest social network in the world is building secret files on the activities of billions of people.”
“Mark Zuckerberg’s company says that is uses this information to target adverts and content based on your preferences, as well as for security purposes,” the article, published this week, read.
This works through “cookies,” small programs installed when you visit certain websites that can track user data. At their most harmless, cookies can help you — say, in terms of remembering your username and password to automatically log you in. However, cookies can also track your browsing habits and a lot more, which raises serious privacy concerns.
You don’t even need to be a Facebook user to be tracked by Facebook’s cookies, either. Simply visiting a site with a Facebook ad or sharing content from the social media site lets the company track you.
What’s more, roughly 10,000 websites have invisible trackers called pixels that record information about people who click on those sites.
“Even if you have never entered the Facebook domain, the company is still able to follow your browsing behaviour without you knowing it,” the Daily Mail noted.
While Facebook users can download everything that Facebook knows about them, those that don’t use the site may find it harder to discover exactly what the site knows. And that can be quite a lot, as New Zealand Herald writer Nick Whigham found out.
“Since the moment I, and everyone else signed up, the social media service has been collecting and keeping everything — I seriously mean everything — we have ever done on the site,” Whigham wrote in an article earlier this week.
“All the conversations, videos, pictures and documents we have shared or have had sent to us are all held on a server somewhere with space specially dedicated to each of us,” he added.
“I downloaded the cache (it’s very easy to do) to check out everything Mark Zuckerberg had on file about me from over the years,” Whigham continued. “It included scanned copies of lease forms from a previous rental property I must’ve sent to my buddies over Messenger, my current tenant ledger report, an old monthly billing statement for my home broadband, screen shots of banking transfers and seemingly endless web pages of all the banal conversations I have ever had on the platform.
“It’s one thing to know Facebook holds all this data (and much more) on you but it’s another thing to trawl through it and find things even you’d forgotten about yourself,” he wrote, but at the same time, “It’s an odd feeling to think that, in some ways, Facebook knows you better than you know yourself.”
The nightmarish thing about this, of course, is that so much of this data being monetized by the social media platform. Well, probably not your lease forms or tenant ledger report, but you get the idea.
Perhaps the most chilling part is that this revelation comes at a time when Facebook is rolling out a new, more advanced facial recognition feature for their site. Users can opt out of it, but it’s still a scary prospect.
Will this practice of mining user data — even data from non-users — ever end? Probably not. Facebook has to make money, after all, and people want a free product. However, some countries are now taking notice of Facebook’s tendency to track non-users and trying to put an end to it. In Belgium, the government recently ordered the social media giant to stop tracking non-user data or face fines of $305,000 a day.
That’s unlikely to happen in the United States, however. Thus, if you’re a not a Facebook user, your best bet is to hope that Mark Zuckerberg and friends start acting with some transparency in terms of the data they collect from you. Given the company’s history regarding privacy concerns, however, that may be more of a dream than anything else.
Please like and share on Facebook to let Mark Zuckerberg know how you feel about his policy — because, after all, someone at Facebook headquarters will likely be seeing this article eventually.
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