Are you one of the 2.3 billion people who aren’t really worried about Facebook’s predatory behavior because you “don’t have anything to hide”, “don’t use it much” or “never share anything I am worried about?” Maybe you need to spend a few minutes looking at the Off Site Activity report that Facebook announced last week. To no one’s surprise, the Facebook announcement failed to include the actual URL for this feature. If you don’t wish to read further, https://www.facebook.com/off_facebook_activity/
If you take the time to view the report and discover that Facebook is tracking your activity across hundreds or even THOUSANDS of apps and website, then head over to the Electronic Frontier Foundation recently published tutorial on How to Change Your Off-Facebook Activity Settings. It is typical of Facebook it requires a 3rd party tutorial to successfully successfully navigate their privacy settings and both remove past history and to tell FB not to collect more information about you in the future.
Exploring the data revealed by this new tool is fascinating. Sadly, since I deleted my Facebook account a few years back, I will have to share some examples from around the web to illustrate the sources of the data FB has assembled. Some comes from the all to common act of surfing the web while still logged into Facebook. Some comes from companies uploading “match lists” of user names, email and phone number to target users while advertising on FB. The most alarming data comes from users who elect to use Facebook as their Single Sign On provide.
Mark Sullivan, @thesullivan, recently wrote an interesting analysis of off site data collect by Facebook for Fast Company. Like a few of the more privacy aware among us, Mark left Big Brother Blue as a social network a few years ago but recently has been dragged back in for work.
A word of explanation: After quitting Facebook in November 2017, I (sort of) rejoined it just shy of four months ago under an assumed name. I use my new account only when my work as a reporter requires it. Even in that small space of time, 309 apps and websites dutifully reported my visits, purchases, and other actions back to Big Brother Facebook. Most of them reported data back more than once, many of them four or five times, and a few more than 50 times. That’s despite the fact that I’ve never clicked on any ads or added a single friend. They don’t care—it’s all automated.
The whole article is definitely worth a read, if only to reinforce that even the most vigilant among us cannot stop Facebook from profiling us. For example, Facebook advertising has a feature that allows advertisers to upload a targeting list of existing “customers” so Facebook can serve them ads while they browse the platform. Before now, you had no way to know this was happening and even today it is difficult to control. Sullivan notes that, “…306 organizations or companies that uploaded a list to Facebook that included my name, email address, or phone number.”
It’s not a comprehensive solution, but our privacy has been eroding slowly over time and taking it back is going to require lots of little steps.