This past week many of us learned a lot about Facebook’s data collection, sharing and business practices.
After much review I concluded that Facebook is unsafe for all of us to be using. If possible, we should delete our Facebook accounts. If we cannot delete our account, then we should take steps to protect our data.
This first post is an overview of Facebook’s data collection. Follow up posts will discuss how to minimize this data collection and sharing, particularly for those of us who may not be able to delete our Facebook account.
How bad is Facebook’s Data Collection?
Facebook’s data collection practices are highly invasive, collecting vastly more data than any of us realized.
- Facebook collects everything you have posted online. We expected this, of course.
- The actual “secret sauce” of Facebook, however, is “Likes”. Each time you click “Like” on a friend’s post or page, Facebook uses that to interpret aspects of your interests and behavior. “Like” buttons are a psychological mind trick that tricks us into unwittingly giving information about ourselves to Facebook. Their goal is literally to get inside our minds. Twitter, Instagram and Youtube also data mine “Likes” as part of their spying on us.
- Facebook tracks you across web sites, logging what web sites – even what pages – you have visited. Facebook does this using Facebook web site logins, “Likes”, and “Share” buttons on other web sites. Recommendation: Do not use the Facebook option to log in to non-Facebook web sites.
- Using hidden pixel bit images and online advertising networks, Facebook logs your visits to web sites where you had no relationship with Facebook.
- Facebook tracks purchases you make at retail stores, completely off line and having nothing to do with Facebook. Facebook does this by purchasing data from retail store data aggregators – using your email address, phone number or credit card number as a database identifier. Facebook combines this purchased data with data that Facebook’s own spying operation has collected. Many retail stores encourage you to obtain their “free” loyalty card that supposedly gives you occasional discounts. By giving them your phone number or email address, these cards are used to track your store purchases. Retailers sell this data to third party companies that maintain databases about your store purchases.
- Facebook’s Android app was – for many years – recording information about every phone call and text message you sent and received – and stored all of this in Facebook’s archives. Facebook has not said what this data is used for. At a minimum, it could be used to make “friend” suggestions on Facebook. Worse, by analyzing the to/from phone numbers used, Facebook could detect that you are making visits to doctors or mental health professionals and make guesses as to your physical and mental health. That information could be sold to insurance companies or recruiters who may seek to avoid someone with health issues.
- Facebook apps (presumably including Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram) also track your Location. Every where you have traveled has been logged by Facebook. The Instagram app also requests permission to access your phone, SMS and contact list. Instagram has no bona fide need for this information.
- 41% of the top 2,500 Android apps in the Google Play store include embedded Facebook tracking features. Trying to avoid Facebook tracking is difficult.
- Not only does Facebook track what posts you have made, Facebook logs posts you started to type but then abandoned.
- Facebook uses software to analyze all of this data to create a model of you and your behavior. Literally, a computer simulation of you. Facebook’s goal is to identify how you can be persuaded to buy something or to advocate for someone else (such as a politician). By identifying your “hot buttons”, Facebook knows how to influence your behavior (and has done tests and written research papers about how they manipulate people). Propagandists and advertisers know that people who are in an emotional state (happy or sad) or more receptive to their messaging. By identifying your “weak spots”, propagandists and advertisers are more likely to influence you. Facebook makes money by selling this data (or sometimes even giving this data away intentionally or accidentally).
- Facebook’s spying has been associated with manipulating elections in many countries around the world.
- The effect is that Facebook is a platform for surveillance and propaganda messaging. So is Google, by the way.
Facebook’s business is spying on every aspect of your life, and then sharing the “model” of conclusions that Facebook has drawn about each of us, with third parties.
Third parties use that “model” to create highly optimized advertising – and propaganda – to deliver to each of us, individually, to persuade us to buy something or to adopt someone else’s agenda.
In some cases, the data collected by Facebook is even used against our best interests. Facebook allows advertisers to target ads by racial preference, sex and age. Real estate advertisers have targeted specific racial groups (e.g. whites) as a way to avoid getting applicants from the non-targeted group. Employers, including high tech employers like Facebook, have targeted tech job ads by age – such as age 24-35, thereby avoiding having older applicants be aware of job openings and hence, no applicants from older workers. Unaware of these job openings, older workers do not even apply. In this way, they discriminate against older workers. Finally, nursing jobs are typically targeted at women only – a field where in the U.S. 89% of all registered nurses are women.
These ads are not just those that appear on Facebook – Facebook’s ad networks displays 44% of all advertising on the web (as of 2017). This means Facebook’s ad network is used to secretly discriminate against tens of millions of people every day.
We have zero control over the data that Facebook has collected on us. Even if we delete individual items, they retain the deleted items in the Facebook archive. Worse, deleting items on Facebook is very difficult. For example, go to your Activity time line and delete 100 posts – you have to select each post, one by one, click 3-4 mouse clicks to delete each individual post. This is ponderous considering that most users have been using Facebook for years. Lacking a bulk delete/edit or bulk change privacy of past posts feature, Facebook becomes a “write only” memory system from which data can generally not be removed. This is by design – Facebook intentionally makes it very hard to remove old items we have posted or shared.
Further, data is placed in different silos. “Photos” contains albums – you can delete entire albums, fortunately. But the photos posted on your time line can only be deleted by going to the Activity time line and deleting them one by one. Then there is a section called “Events”. Any time you clicked on Interested or Going, Facebook logged that. Stuff is hidden all over the place so that Facebook can claim they allow you to delete things while simultaneously making it as difficult as possible to find where you can delete it.
I concluded Facebook is generally unsafe for everyone. Realistically, deleting your account may not be something you can do – at least not right now. However, there are steps you can and should take to protect your personal information. I will discuss those steps in another post soon.
Personally, I have removed myself from about 90% of the Groups I belonged to on Facebook, unliked all of the Pages I had liked, deleted all of my photo albums, and have turned off nearly all Notifications. I will also be deleting 2 or 3 of the 4 pages that I run on Facebook and unfriending those friends that I have had little or no interaction with. I will no longer post anything to my personal page nor will I ever again click “Like”.
I plan to keep this App Inventor programming page on Facebook as perhaps my only activity on Facebook. However, if that should change, I will let you know and provide you with an alternate – at a minimum, you can always visit our web site directly at https://learn2c.org.
On App Inventor topics, I have been working on something – its not ready yet – but some stuff on Fusion Tables and also perhaps how to resurrect the old TinyWebDB type simple cloud-based database. We will see how this turns out!