It is something we often all wonder and sometimes fear when it comes to our personal data, images, conversations and much more on the social media giants’ platform, which we all use daily for a variety of reasons. To get an idea of the data Facebook collects about you, you can literally just..ask for it. You will receive a file with every photo and comment you’ve ever posted, all the ads you’ve clicked on, stuff you’ve liked and searched for and everyone you’ve friended – and unfriended – over the past years of having an active account.
This enormous amalgamate of data is primarily used to decipher which ads are best suitable to be shown to you as a user and consumer. It also makes using Facebook more seamless and enjoyable – say, by determining which posts to emphasize in your feed, or reminding you of friends’ celebrations or birthdays.
Facebook’s privacy practices have come under fire after a Trump-affiliated political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, effectively illegally and inappropriately extracted people’s data and information from Facebook for political use. Whilst in the past privacy discussions and arguments circled – mainly – around marketers, the stakes are higher this time because the firm is alleged to have created psychological profiles to influence how people vote or even think about politics and society as a whole. They do after all clearly state on their website that they use Data to change people’s behaviour. A somewhat..worrying statement as it really should be the other way round (market driven by product needs).
You can off course turn off ad targeting and see generic ads instead, the way you would on TV or in a newspaper. Simply click on the ad settings, you’d need to un-check all your interests, interactions with companies and websites and other personal information you don’t want to use in targeting. Of course, if you click on a new interest after this, you’ll have to go back and un-check it in your ad preferences to prevent targeting which ends up becoming quite a mundane and tedious task.
As Facebook explains, it puts you in target categories based on your activity on their platform throughout your years on it. So, if you are 36 for example, living in Cambridge and have liked an restaurants’ page, Facebook may show you an ad for other similar restaurants or establishments in your area.
But activity isn’t limited to pages or posts you like, comments you make and your use of outside apps and websites as if for example you start typing something and change your mind and delete it, Facebook keeps those and analyzes them too. No ..stone is left unturned as such by Facebook and hence you need to be fully aware of this.
And, increasingly, Facebook tries to match what it knows about you with your offline data, bought from data brokers or gathered in other ways online or offline sometimes. The more information they are able to gather or collect about you, the fuller the picture of you it can offer to advertisers and other marketers. It can infer things about you that you had no intention of sharing – anything from your ethnicity to personality traits, happiness and use of addictive substances.
Such types of data collections aren’t necessarily explicit in privacy policies or settings. However, Facebook says that advertisers don’t get the raw data in full. They just tell Facebook what kind of people they want their ads to reach, then Facebook makes the matches and shows the ads which we can confirm is true to a certain extent as regular advertisers that spend over £5000 a month on advertising for our clients.
Furthermore, Apps also gather and collect a lot of information and data from users, as revealed in the Cambridge Analytica scandal as the firm itself acquired the data from a researcher who paid 270,000 Facebook users to complete a psychological profile quiz back in 2014. But the quiz gathered information on their friends as well, bringing the total number of people affected to about 50 million.
Facebook said Cambridge Analytica got the data inappropriately – but only because the app said it collected data for research rather than political profiling. Gathering data on friends was permitted at the time, even if they had never installed the app or given explicit consent.
Facebook has since restricted the amount of types of data apps can access. But other types of data collection are still permitted. For this reason, it’s a good idea to check all the apps you’ve given permissions to over the years. You can also do this in your settings.
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