With almost two and a half billion active users worldwide, Facebook is so huge it has become a seemingly inalienable part of our life. For many of those millions and millions of users, checking their Facebook is a daily routine just like a morning cup of coffee.
Companies use Facebook as actively as private individuals. As of the last year, there were 80 million small and medium-sized business pages. It’s hard to overestimate the benefits of social media marketing in our age: it raises brand awareness, allows businesses to communicate with their customers in a direct and easy manner, providing faster and more convenient customer service, just to name a few.
When facing such tremendous possibilities, we tend to turn a blind eye to the shadier practices of this social media giant. But today, let us look into them with the attention they deserve.
For many people, the picture we are going to see may be a surprising one. After all, Facebook isn’t some unsafe website that only seeks to scam people, right?
Let’s find out.
Mark Zuckerberg and the Unhealthy Amounts of Tracking
A new blog post on Facebook Newsroom begins with the words “Facebook is better with location”.
And indeed, it reads as a defense of the tracking mechanisms built into its mobile apps. The reason for it being written, it seems, is the new privacy developments on Android and iOS operating systems. Namely, those give the users more options to manage how they want a certain app to get (or not get) access to their precise geolocation.
At first glance, the Facebook post in question is aimed at explaining some finer aspects of the iOS and Android updates. However, it has an almost threatening undertone, saying that Facebook will still be able to locate its users, even if they turn precise location determining off.
It’s crazy how much data Facebook gathers about its users. It’s even crazier how much it gathers using other websites and applications. It gathers so much that simply taking safety precautions on social media is not going to cut it because it isn’t only social media that tracks its users.
In fact, one doesn’t even have to be a registered Facebook user for the corporation to have some information about them. Because of the collaboration between many sites on the Internet and Facebook, the latter knows a lot even about people who never visit it.
There are two ways in which Facebook can learn what sites you visit. First is the Social Plugins. They are those buttons embedded into a webpage that allow you to like and share it on Facebook. As it turns out, you don’t even have to click the buttons to reveal your activity to Facebook. It knows where you are (and by “you” I mean your IP address and your browser info) just because you went to that page.
The second way is through Facebook Pixel technology. This pixel-sized file is small enough for you not to notice it no matter how hard you look. However, it packs a lot of power. Like the Social Plugins, it requests data from your browser and transfers it to Facebook.
While advertisers can make very good use of these data collection mechanisms, it gets scary for a regular netizen. It really does seem that there’s no escape from Facebook’s watchful eye as long as you are online.
Other questionable practices
You may be thinking: “Well, all the data Facebook collects is just for advertising. It’s annoying, at worst, but there’s no harm in it.”
If so, you would be wrong.
Perhaps the company’s goals are 100% benign, if driven purely by commercial interests. However, the carefree way it handles its users’ private data is concerning, to say the least.
Let’s look at the last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal. A simple app collects a ton of data on the users who download it, which data is then transferred to a third party. That, by the way, may or may not have influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections in the US.
50 million users are profiled, and what does Facebook have to say about it? That data was supposed to be deleted back in 2015, but somehow it was not until at least three years later.
That’s not exactly the answer you’d want to hear concerning your private data.
2018 saw another Facebook-related scandal when it became public knowledge that it had logged text messages and phone calls of its users thanks to extremely vague notification dialogue of the Android app. In fact, it was impossible to decline the collection of such data until a more recent Android OS update.
As usual, Facebook claimed that this was done to enhance the user experience and to make finding one’s friends online easier. That does explain why it collected contacts, but not the call and text logs.
According to Gizmodo, yet another privacy issue was found when Facebook used the phone numbers that were set up for multi-factor authentication in advertisement purposes. It is not the only creative way to find contact information that users did not explicitly provide.
Your phone number can be targeted with ads even if you never provided it to Facebook. If the social network learned it from someone else sharing their phone contacts, it will be associated with you and used against you.
With issues like the ones described above, it’s apparent that Facebook is not as privacy-oriented as one would like it to be. The social media giant continues to excuse its profit-first practices with rather weak refutations, and no amount of backlash seems to hurt it.
We have seen that it gathers data even on people who don’t have Facebook accounts by implementing various clever techniques and using other websites to do the dirty work for it.
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for an Internet user to evade Facebook’s attention. Countering its tracking and data-grabbing mechanisms that we know of is no mean feat, but who’s to say there aren’t more that we don’t know about?
This is why there must be a strong governmental response to all privacy violations done by the company. It shouldn’t, by any means, be meant as a witch hunt against Facebook, but as a legal incentive to make everything related to their privacy transparent to users.
Furthermore, Facebook should be encouraged to protect its users’ private data better to prevent debacles like the Cambridge Analytica one. That’s how it can turn from some uncanny entity hunting for information into what it’s meant to be: a social network.
Photo Credit: Pixabay