“They “trust me”…dumb f**ks.”
Excuse me for the expletive. And sorry to break it to you, but that’s pretty much how Mark Zuckerberg described his 4,000 users back in 2004 when Facebook had barely started. He was only answering his friend, who had asked how he’d been able to collect personal data.
Ok, we could cut Zuckerberg some slack for the brutal remarks since he was just 19 years old. Besides, he apologized for that in 2010, through an interview with the New Yorker.
But, make no mistake. That doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to everything altogether. Rather, let’s take a step back and review the situation critically. Should you actually be scared about “trusting him”?
In retrospect, Zuckerberg was referring to data about physical addresses, pictures, plus email accounts belonging to Facebook users. And that in itself was a lot of information already.
But, interestingly, and rather surprisingly, the situation has gotten worse over the past 15 years. A typical Facebook user is now donating much more than that.
Some of the personal data is submitted directly as you edit your profile. Then, as you subsequently interact with other users, Facebook goes ahead to collect more info. And to supplement all that, the site leverages third-party platforms and devices. Its ecosystem has integrated with them to harvest additional details without explicitly notifying you.
So, of course, you can bet that the amount of data they now have is astounding. When I worked at Facebook, its data storage warehouse had already surpassed 300 Petabytes. At the moment, therefore, I’d say that it’s possibly well over 500 and heading towards an Exabyte.
And the worst part is? There’s nothing you can do to get rid of the data you’ve already surrendered to Facebook. Even after you’ve deleted your account, Facebook will still hang on to everything it has about you.
Sadly, most people are not aware of this. It took the Cambridge Analytica scandal for some to start debating about the impact of Facebook’s data. And come to think of it, the world is still having a hard time dealing with the astonishingly surprising fact that Facebook might have indeed influenced America’s election outcome. Probably to a much larger extent that you imagine.
Despite the consequent backlash, the reality is that people are still yet to understand how the platform profits from their data. Even the U.S. Congress doesn’t know the exact data science behind Facebook’s information management framework.
How Facebook Profits From Your Data
The common misconception is that Facebook “sells” the information to third-parties. On the contrary, it actually doesn’t. At least not yet. Although that might sound noble, it turns out that the misconception isn’t far from the truth after all.
Here’s the thing. Direct sale of such exclusive data would ultimately make it invaluable. So, Facebook chooses to retain it, and instead sell ad space against your profile. In other words, companies get to run ads that target users based on their personal data.
And what’s the problem with that?
If you can’t avoid them altogether, you’d perhaps prefer to see personalized ads over random spam. But then again, the targeting process is only one part of the story. It just so happens that there’s a much scarier dark side.
You see, Facebook only controls what happens within its ecosystem. Once you click on an ad, it redirects you to the advertiser’s site, who then takes over from there. And that’s essentially when everything starts going south.
What happens here is that those sites put trackers on your browser. They ultimately get to follow you everywhere you go around the web.
Admittedly, that’s why we even developed the Lightbeam add-on when I worked at Mozilla. It basically allows you to see all your relationships with first and third-party sites.
How to Resolve The Data Problem
All things considered, you should be increasingly concerned about the amount of data Facebook has on you. And the principal reason is this- the platform lets advertisers be altruistic and nefarious. They not only get to target but also follow you around the web with precision.
Luckily, there are three ways you can maintain your online privacy.
- Use Mozilla Firefox along with do-not-track add-ons plus ad-blockers
- Take advantage of incognito/private windows when you’re searching for sensitive things. I’m talking about stuff you wouldn’t like to show up all across the social framework. (like an engagement ring or pregnancy tests)
- Sign up for haveibeenpwned.com/ to get instant alerts in the event of a compromised log in.
Facebook might not be the main enemy here. But, let’s face it. It’s quite scary when we think about the amount of personal info we've fed it over time. So, remain vigilant and be extremely careful when clicking on anything you see on or off social platforms.