Facebook Wants to Know EVERYTHING

The Article

I first signed up on Facebook to make it easier to share travel photos with friends.  I found that everyone on my email list was also a Facebook user, so I decided that would be the place to share those travel photos.  Facebook was a small company then.  Advertising did not yet occur on the Facebook platform and Zuckerberg was still making the party cool, but that was about to change.

For a period of time Facebook was a great place to share information, but once Facebook started to sell advertising they realized that the data people willingly share is a valuable asset.  Thus a price was attached to personal information.  If the personal information was merely compiled voluntarily by adding posts, communicating with friends, and in general using the service, I would not have a problem.  Obviously if I want to use an online service I can assume that anything I post in a form to share with people in some capacity has a good chance of being sold, either because the company openly discloses that in the privacy statement, or possibly a group of hackers gets in there and steals the data for black market sales.  Great services that are free are often paid for by the collection and use of our personal data.

All this is fine as long as we have Facebook and actively utilize the platform.  However, the company has become discontented with the seemingly small amount of information that the average user posts relative to the size of our individual lives.  Facebook needed to come up with some more ways to gather more information.  They actively collect data from service users, not just of Facebook, but other Facebook owned systems as well.  It would appear from the privacy policies and terms of use that the Occulus Rift tracks user movements as a means to advertise.  After the company bought WhatsApp, they said the platforms would operate separately and they did until just recently.  Turnkey is a term indicating the possibility of change to a system causes data collected by that system to be used in ways not previously disclosed.  In terms of a company, it means that data collected when it was a small company is not likely going to be the case in the long-term if the corporate structure changes.  That is exactly what occurred with Facebook and WhatsApp.  Recently the company was to merge data collected by both WhatsApp and Facebook, and they would have totally succeeded if Germany did not block such a data merger.  Outside of Germany, however, you can assume that what you did on WhatsApp is now merged with what you did on Facebook to give them more information about you for the purpose of showing more relevant advertising.

Facebook owns over 50 different companies including app developers, facial recognition technology, ad services, and more.  To look at the list, the company looks like it is buying up everything in the data collection and data analysis fields.  Truly they are seeking to know everything.  What if one day they simply merged all of the data from all of the data collection services and ran them through all of the services of the data analysis companies.  How much would a company pay for that level of data?

The real spark that ignited this article was the introduction of conversation starters on the Facebook messenger app.  The company removed the messaging function from the phone apps about two years ago.  At that time, the messenger app was the most popular download but had the worst reviews ever!  But this serves a purpose of selling more ad space while collecting more data about the users, not to mention the bonus of one company publishing one more highly successful app.  Recently, however, Facebook introduced a new feature in the app where your friends profile history are suggested as conversation starters.  I think this means that they are trying to increase the conversations being conducted on the platform so that more data can be collected.  We know that Facebook combs through the information used on their services and I think the new conversation starter service is there to start more conversations with an end to have more data based on those conversations.

It turns out that was an interesting bait to research the article, but was the least frightening fact I found.  Nearing the top of the list is how Facebook was collecting data on non-Facebook users.  This was an older article, but a careful search of newer documents reveal evidence that Facebook is still tracking people in the EU.  In February 2016, France demanded Facebook stop tracking non-users.  France is not alone.  Even in the US, Facebook is collecting not just personal data, but also biometric data on non-Facebook users.  A suit is currently pending in Illinois where companies are restricted from unconsensual biometric data collection.

What can we do?

It is very difficult to prevent Facebook and other related companies from gathering our data because our current legal climate would appear to allow it, at least by silence.  I can see two major legal changes we could discuss in this country to prevent the abuse of personal data.

  1. Establish a law in the United States that is similar to the EU laws that require a company to inform a user about all data about said user and allow information to be deleted upon request.
  2. Establish better opt-in laws.  As it is now, companies can scrap up anything they want for their marketing machines.  If personal data were protected from open harvesting a lot of personal data breaches and identity thefts could be prevented, but it would also prevent unwanted personalized solicitations.

Until laws about personal data change in this country we can take a few steps to minimize the collection.  The major reason it is impossible is that even if we do everything right to prevent data collection on ourselves, we all know at least one person that approves every app, plays every game, and fully engages on the network.  If you are connected with such a person, every time they use the apps, play the games, and interact, they are providing permission to view all of their contacts, including your contact information.  So what can we do:

  1. Tell friends to be more discerning about the applications they allow to run on Facebook.  If they are repeated offenders remove your connection from them and calmly explain why in person.
  2. Eliminate cookies if possible.  Depending on what you do online, you may or may not be able to remove cookies entirely.  Give it a try.
  3. Block Facebook Cookies.  You can go into the settings on Firefox (and probably other browsers) and block cookies from specific URLs.  Blocking Facebook or any other invasive site might be as easy as blocking the cookie.
  4. Delete all cookies at the time the browser is closed.  This method prevents sites from tracking data from your last browsing instance.  Though companies can still put together data about you, they get a fresh web each time.
  5. Keep Facebook isolated on a different browser.  Remember that each browser stores settings, preferences, cookies, internet data separately from all others.  If you are interested in using Facebook, use a browser that you do not generally use for other purposes.  This makes sure your Facebook tracking cookies are not tracking you…much.
  6. Use multiple computers.  In the modern age the IP address is not nearly as important as a machine ID, MAC address, or other information that is very specific to your computer.  If able, you could set up one computer just for Facebook-related activity.  You do not need a different computer, just a flash drive to install Linux to!
  7. Edit your hosts file.  This file controls where websites go.  If you do a line: 127.0.0.1 facebook.com you will find that you cannot connect to the social media giant…but that also means their tracking pixels and like buttons cannot reach you!

I hope these tips have been a help.  It is one thing to agree to Facebook tracking, but these will hopefully help you avoid detection.  Let me know your tips!

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