- Facebook routinely gathers data from its 1.4 billion daily active users worldwide
- It also uses tracking devices that follow a user’s internet activity via third-parties
- Even if you have never entered the Facebook domain, the company can track you
- Facebook account holders are able to download a copy of the file kept on them
- The privacy of users tracked via-third parties is currently less transparent
Facebook may be tracking your every move online even if you have never been on the site.
Not content with monitoring the movements of its own users, the largest social network in the world is building secret files on the activities of billions of people.
Mark Zuckerburg’s company says that is uses this information to target adverts and content based on your preferences, as well as for security purposes.
Facebook account holders are able to download a copy of the file kept on them, which contains detailed records of their activities while logged in.
The privacy of users tracked via-third parties is currently less transparent, with no way of checking exactly what Facebook knows about you.
Facebook, based in Menlo Park, California, uses data gathered from its 1.4 billion daily active users worldwide as a basis for algorithms which link advertising and other materials to a person’s online profile.
It can collect data on every element of your digital identity on the network, from your search and Messenger chat history to photos you’ve uploaded and files sent across its servers.
Facebook also makes use of social media plug-ins and cookies – tracking devices that follow a user’s internet activity – to collect data via third-party websites.
Every time you like or share Facebook content or visit sites with Facebook ads and trackers you are being watched, even if you aren’t signed in.
Even if you have never entered the Facebook domain, the company is still able to follow your browsing behaviour without you knowing it.
More than 10,000 websites contain invisible trackers, called Pixels, which record information about visitors.
This includes everything from the operating system you use to your IP address and activities on the website during a session.
This gives the firm insights into everything from where you are in the world, who your internet service provider is, the types of sites you like to visit and how long you spend on them.
WHAT ARE COOKIES AND WHAT DO THEY DO?
A cookie’s content is determined by the specific website that created it and vary from site to site.
As a general rule, cookies are text files containing random alphanumeric text characters.
They are intended to help you access a site faster and more efficiently.
For example, cookies can store information to help you enter a site without having to login.
When the user visits a website’s login page, the web server typically sends the client a cookie containing a unique session identifier.
When the user successfully logs in, the server remembers that that particular session identifier has been authenticated, and grants the user access to its services.
Tracking cookies, especially those used by third-parties, are commonly used as ways to compile long-term records of individuals’ browsing histories.
They can collect information including IP address, length of visit, pages visited, length of time spent on a page, in what sequence pages were accessed.
Advertisers can use this information collected to build up a digital profile of a user.
This might not be linked o your real world identity, using a user ID rather than your name, although some websites may link this to your account name.
By adding tags to a page, advertisers can track a user or their device across different websites.
That helps build a profile of them based on their habits, so messages can be better targeted to their interests.
Nick Whigham, a reporter for the New Zealand Herald, decided to test out what Facebook knew about him and was surprised by the results.
In 2010, Facebook was the first big social media firm to give its users the option to download a file containing their personal history on the service.
Among the information gathered by the firm on Mr Wingham was a mobile recording of an old VHS video of his mother hugging him as he left for his first day of pre-school.
He also stumbled across scanned copies of tenancy agreements, bills for his home broadband service and screen shots of bank transfers, as well as more banal chat logs and other site history.
To access your personalised digital footprint on Facebook, click on the top-right dropdown menu, click on settings and then ‘Download a copy of your data file.’
Facing a growing backlash over privacy concerns, Facebook has responded by attempting to offer greater transparency about what it knows.
Just yesterday, users who logged onto Facebook reported seeing a message from the firm on their News Feed outlining several new facial recognition features.
The features were first announced last December, but Facebook has been gradually rolling them out over the past several months.
The firm is giving people greater clarity about what its facial recognition features do and, most importantly, the fact that they can opt-out of the system entirely.
Concerns over Facebook’s tracking activities and its handling of sensitive information have already landed the company in legal trouble.
In February, a Belgian court ordered Facebook to stop tracking internet users in the country who have no accounts with the social network, or face fines of €250,000 (£222,000 / $305,000) a day.
Speaking at the time, Johannes Kleis, a spokesman for the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), said: ‘This is a big win for internet users who don’t want tech companies to monitor every step they make online.
HOW CAN YOU DOWNLOAD YOUR PERSONAL DATA FILE FROM FACEBOOK?
- To download your personal data file, click at the top right of your Facebook page and select Settings
- Click ‘Download a copy of your Facebook data’ below your General Account Settings
- Facebook will process a file with all your data since the day you created your account
- Make sure your email is correct because Facebook will send you an email and notification when your file is ready to download
To access your personalised Facebook archive, simply click on the top-right dropdown, click on settings and then ‘Download a copy of your data file.’
‘What Facebook is doing is against Europe’s data protection laws and should be stopped throughout the EU.’
Facebook said the cookies and pixels it uses are ‘industry standard technologies,’ allowing hundreds of thousands of businesses to grow and reach customers.
‘We are disappointed with today’s verdict and intend to appeal,’ Facebook said in a statement.
‘We’ve built teams of people who focus on the protection of privacy, from engineers to designers, and tools that give people choice and control.’
That same month, a federal judge denied Facebook’s attempt to dismiss a class-action lawsuit by users in Illinois who say the firm violated their privacy by collecting and storing biometric data without their consent.
The government in Australia is also looking into ways in which Facebook and other digital platforms operate.
The average time Australians spend on Facebook every day is 1.7 hours a day, according to a Nielsen report.
The Australian government is looking into ways Facebook and other platforms operate
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is set to investigate how the site collects data about its users and how they use that information.
The public will be asked to provide feedback on several points relating to the ACCC investigation and have until April 3 to do so. A final report is due in December.
Another part of the inquiry will look at the impact of Facebook and Google on traditional media and how the public access news.
Rod Sims, the ACCC chairman, said: ‘Digital platforms like Google and Facebook are part of the sweeping technological and cultural changes overhauling the media landscape in Australia and globally.
‘While these technological changes have brought many benefits for consumers, this inquiry will have a particular focus on examining whether the changes affect the quality and range of news supplied to Australian consumers.’
He added the inquiry aims to understand ‘the evolving nature of the way consumers search and receive news in Australia’.
WHAT DOES FACEBOOK KNOW ABOUT YOU?
Facebook uses personal data it collects on members using their on-site activity, location settings and internet connection to target its ads.
The firm uses 98 data points to create ‘complete consumer profiles’.
Some of this data is taken from your Faebook profile information, but the social network watches online activity for the rest.
It can ‘see’ virtually every website you visit if you are logged into Facebook.
The 98 data points it tracks are:
6. Education level
7. Field of study
9. Ethnic affinity
10. Income and net worth
11. Home ownership and type
12. Home value
13. Property size
14. Square footage of home
15. Year home was built
16. Household composition
17. Users who have an anniversary within 30 days
18. Users who are away from family or hometown
19. Users who are friends with someone who has an anniversary, is newly married or engaged, recently moved, or has an upcoming birthday
20. Users in long-distance relationships
21. Users in new relationships
22. Users who have new jobs
23. Users who are newly engaged
24. Users who are newly married
25. Users who have recently moved
26. Users who have birthdays soon
28. Expectant parents
29. Mothers, divided by “type” (soccer, trendy, etc.)
30. Users who are likely to engage in politics
31. Conservatives and liberals
32. Relationship status
35. Job title
36. Office type
38. Users who own motorcycles
39. Users who plan to buy a car (and what kind/brand of car, and how soon)
40. Users who bought auto parts or accessories recently
41. Users who are likely to need auto parts or services
42. Style and brand of car you drive
43. Year car was bought
44. Age of car
45. How much money user is likely to spend on next car
46. Where user is likely to buy next car
47. How many employees your company has
48. Users who own small businesses
49. Users who work in management or are executives
50. Users who have donated to charity (divided by type)
51. Operating system
52. Users who play canvas games
53. Users who own a gaming console
54. Users who have created a Facebook event
55. Users who have used Facebook Payments
56. Users who have spent more than average on Facebook Payments
57. Users who administer a Facebook page
58. Users who have recently uploaded photos to Facebook
59. Internet browser
60. Email service
61. Early/late adopters of technology
62. Expats (divided by what country they are from originally)
63. Users who belong to a credit union, national bank or regional bank
64. Users who investor (divided by investment type)
65. Number of credit lines
66. Users who are active credit card users
67. Credit card type
68. Users who have a debit card
69. Users who carry a balance on their credit card
70. Users who listen to the radio
71. Preference in TV shows
72. Users who use a mobile device (divided by what brand they use)
73. Internet connection type
74. Users who recently acquired a smartphone or tablet
75. Users who access the Internet through a smartphone or tablet
76. Users who use coupons
77. Types of clothing user’s household buys
78. Time of year user’s household shops most
79. Users who are “heavy” buyers of beer, wine or spirits
80. Users who buy groceries (and what kinds)
81. Users who buy beauty products
82. Users who buy allergy medications, cough/cold medications, pain relief products, and over-the-counter meds
83. Users who spend money on household products
84. Users who spend money on products for kids or pets, and what kinds of pets
85. Users whose household makes more purchases than is average
86. Users who tend to shop online (or off)
87. Types of restaurants user eats at
88. Kinds of stores user shops at
89. Users who are “receptive” to offers from companies offering online auto insurance, higher education or mortgages, and prepaid debit cards/satellite TV
90. Length of time user has lived in house
91. Users who are likely to move soon
92. Users who are interested in the Olympics, fall football, cricket or Ramadan
93. Users who travel frequently, for work or pleasure
94. Users who commute to work
95. Types of vacations user tends to go on
96. Users who recently returned from a trip
97. Users who recently used a travel app
98. Users who participate in a timeshare