It’s 2009, Facebook is the most exciting platform around and of course, you have to get an account. Over the years, it has served as a platform to keep up with friends, connect with people from the past, and a way to share your life with others. It’s now 2024, you’ve been an active user for years, sharing pictures, liking posts and watching videos. While sharing your life to the world, you’ve also become aware of Facebook’s multiple data breaches and scandals. It’s no surprise that you’re left wondering what Facebook knows about you, and what data they collect about you. While it posed as a platform to connect with others at the start, it has become more smart, offered more features and become more greedy for it’s users data and driving profits.
Facebook was created to allow you to share information about your life with your friends and family, so it’s not surprising that Facebook knows everything you’ve posted and shared on your page. But, what you might not know, is that Facebook knows A LOT more than what you’ve willingly posted. They’ve managed to creep into every corner of your online life.
Facebook tracks and gathers information on:
It’s understandable that Facebook knows just about everything you’ve ever done on their social network, but what’s worrying is that they also know what you’ve been doing online, off of their site. Below we explain what data Facebook collects about it’s users and what they do with this user data.
Facebook tracks every click you make on their site. Because you created a personal account you’ve given them your name, date of birth, email address and if you use Facebook messenger, they know your phone number too. In addition to these personal details, they have all your publicly shared messages, statuses you’ve posted, comments and likes.
In short, because you use their service, you’ve agreed to give Facebook your information. Facebook knows who you’ve added as a friend, friend requests you’ve received as well as who you message. Additionally, Facebook has access to and tracks the metadata attached to any files you upload to the platform. For example, they are able to determine your location from the metadata attached to your pictures uploaded.
You may have thought Facebook collecting metadata was the most reach it had on your private life, but you’re wrong. In addition to this metadata, they keep track of far more technical data. Because of this technical data tracking, they know a lot of information about the device you use. They know your phone brand, what operating system you use, your installed apps, device IDs, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cell tower signals, and stored cookies.
Other technical data that’s shared with Facebook includes, your phones default settings, language , IP address, internet speed, time zone, and any devices connected to the same network. Because of this, Facebook has probably figured out who you live with if they also use Facebook and the same network.
While it can figure out who you live with, it can also trace your device’s actions. Every time you scroll the app, open a video, or read two minutes of a boring article they are app tracking your activity. They do this to see how much time you spend looking at advertisements and posts, and from this app tracking, they make huge profits off your data.
You may think you’re solely in charge of the information Facebook gets about you but that isn’t the case. When a friend tags you in a photo, post or comments, or mentions you in a status, your activities, interests and connections could be disclosed. When your friends comment and interact with your posts, you are providing insights into your relationships, preferences and activities.
Facebook also has an extensive network of partners that work together and share user information. If a company collaborates with Facebook they give them the data which is added to Facebook's database. Because of this, Facebook knows which websites you’ve visited, how you interact with other sites, and your online behavior. The company has so much data, trends and information on you, it’s no wonder advertisers want it. The more detailed your profile is, the better it is for advertisers, the higher the profit for Facebook.
Facebook’s partner network is vast, and this raises concern for user security. Each time you use a platform which allows you to login with Facebook or every time you click on a website that uses Facebook pixels (usually found on news websites) this data is sent to Facebook. This extensive network linked to Facebook then raises concern for user security, because it means that there is almost nothing that Facebook doesn’t know about your online activity.
Facebook is known for its extensive and intrusive methods of collecting location data of it’s users, this poses a significant threat for you and your safety. It uses GPS data, Wi-Fi points, Bluetooth signals, and other sources. Facebook can accurately pinpoint your location, even when your GPS is disabled. Additionally, their ability to figure out locations from images posted on the platform adds another layer of surveillance.
The Facebook app on your smartphones has a detailed location history. This history log reveals where you live, work, where you go for your daily activities as well as shows insights into your family’s movements, like your child's school location. This location data is used to create targeted advertising. Some of the ads you see pop up on your screen are targeted at you based on your locations and activities.
A big problem is that many Facebook users unknowingly expose sensitive aspects of their lives, like their locations. The fact that this happens and people don’t realize the extent to how much Facebook knows and tracks them is unacceptable. While a major revenue source for Facebook is from their targeted advertising, it raises major concerns about privacy and security. Why should your sensitive user data be exploited for revenue purposes?
Because of the different laws around the world, Facebook’s strategy on information gathering is different depending on the region and country your situated in. In the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) means certain data is automatically protected. This protected information includes political affiliation, religious beliefs, and health information. Even if you choose to share this information, the GDPR automatically protects it. Additionally, EU authorities banned Facebook’s owner Meta from using EU citizens personal data for advertising. This was a big step forward toward protecting EU citizens basic human rights.
While the EU has upped its data and protection laws, little protection is present for users in other parts of the world. Users in the United States have different degrees of security and protection. Unfortunately, if you live in a state with weak privacy laws, you’re at risk of Facebook using your sensitive data for marketing purposes.
In areas where Facebook has access to your sensitive data, they may know your political preferences (crazy right) which helps them find out which advertisements are more effective. For example, the same product is tailored to it’s target group to be more attractive to that set of users. This means that if you aren’t protected by local privacy laws, Facebook is able to use any information it can gather about you, and use this to influence you in ways you can’t comprehend.
Does Facebook sell your data? Yes! Facebook is involved in big data collection, this means that they gather and analyze huge amounts of data generated by Facebook users. In Q3 of 2023, Facebook reportedly had 3.049 billion monthly active users, making it the biggest app in the world, so you can’t comprehend the unimaginable amounts of information it harvests about its users. The data they collect includes user demographics, online behavior, interactions and interests.
Through this big data collection, they provide targeted advertising to the user. Because Facebook sells this data to advertisers, they can target adverts to specific groups more likely to buy the products.
Facebook uses this big data to personalize the content that its users see on their news feeds, pages you may like, friend suggestions and they push content that is aligned with the users preferences and activities. While big data collection could enhance the user experience, benefit Facebook and advertisers, it raises concern knowing the potential dangers associated with big data collection.
Facebook's data policy states that they allow users to access, erase, port and rectify data with a simple click. Facebook keeps this information until it is no longer needed for Facebook services and Meta Products, or until the user decides to delete their account. Click here to read more on Facebook's data policy practices.
After reading this article you’re probably wondering why Facebook still has so many active users? And why so many people still use Meta’s range of applications like WhatsApp and Instagram. Well, like you, (before reading this article) most users are ignorant and unaware of Meta’s reach into the public and private lives of it’s users through their range of apps. A lot of what Facebook does and continues to do, on a larger scale is unknown to us. One of the first steps you can take to taking back your privacy is signing up for a private email service which shares no data with any of Meta's companies, like Tuta!
Leaving Meta doesn’t mean you need to live under a rock. There are a number of great alternatives!