Meta doesn’t have a strong reputation for respecting privacy – in fact, the company thrives on being as invasive as possible. It collects as much personal data on users as possible across all of its services.
Owning Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, Meta is likely a staple of your life. Facebook alone has almost 3 billion monthly active users, which equates to almost half of the people on earth! With Facebook being such a powerful platform, we find out how it acquires this data and what it does with it.
A common conspiracy theory that many have is that Facebook is listening to your private conversations and advertising any products and services that you mention. How many times have you mentioned something in passing to a friend, and suddenly you are bombarded with that product on your feed?
Remember that Facebook can track what you do on other websites and apps that use Facebook plugins, login and widgets.
The truth is that Facebook isn’t taking the audio from your conversations and using this for ad targeting, but they collect pretty much everything else. Facebook has admitted that it collects “content, communications, and other information” which includes your photos, videos, hashtags, and everything you interact with on the platform. Whilst they aren’t physically listening to you, they are tracking everything that you do.
One of the biggest data scandals in recent years where Facebook mishandled data from over 50 million users, that had not been properly obtained by the data-analytics firm; Cambridge Analytica which specialised in politics. This was done by an in-app “personality quiz” and the data was taken in 2015. 3 years later, this raw data was still available online, despite Facebook stating otherwise.
It is claimed that by using this improperly gained data from Facebook users and applying this to political campaigns, Cambridge Analytica was able to help shape the result of the 2016 US presidential campaign and the EU Referendum.
Online quizzes may seem harmless on the outside, but the reality is that companies can use this data in ways you would not have believed, as proved by Cambridge Analytica.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal is not the only time where Facebook has been the centre of data mishandling. In 2021, over 500 million Facebook users’ personal data was leaked on a low-level hacking forum. This was verified to be legitimate from the platform and shows how malicious sources can gain access to data, and on an enormous scale.
Security researchers stated that this data was enough to allow hackers to impersonate people who commit fraud. As stated in our previous blogs in our The Internet of Things series, when you enter your data on any social media site, you need to be wary of how the platform handles your data.
The scariest thing about Facebook’s data breaches is that they actually do not know how to handle its user’s data. A leaked document showed that the Facebook Ad team stated that the company did not have control over its user’s data stating:
We do not have an adequate level of control and explainability over how our systems use data, and thus we can’t confidently make controlled policy changes or external commitments such as ‘we will not use X data for Y purpose,’ wrote the report’s authors. And yet, this is exactly what regulators expect us to do, increasing our risk of mistakes and misrepresentation.
Facebook Privacy Engineers
The document revealed that all data is stored together, whether it is first party, third party, or sensitive data. This promotes a real lack of trust in the platform.
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