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Facebook Is Coming . . . For Your Data

Facebook and Data CollectionFacebook is certainly our friend. We use it to get the word out about our blogs and to talk with others in our Women of Midlife group. If we want to keep track of out-of-town friends, we scroll through their Facebook timelines. We give a thumbs-up (or a love heart or an angry or sad face, depending on our mood) to posts on our on feeds. Facebook is fun!

And free. The only thing Facebook charges for is boosting posts on Facebook “business” pages or for running ads.

How can a platform that does not ask users to pay for its product be worth nearly 350 BILLON DOLLARS? Furthermore, how does it manage to keep going?

In the beginning, Facebook found investors. The money from these sources initially went to product development and salaries. Once the company grew, they began attracting advertisers. By now big-brand spenders, like HSBC, Ford, and McDonald’s contribute to the over $1.6 billion Facebook earns yearly. A platform like Facebook is attractive to brands large and small because it can offer lots of information advertisers can use to target potential customers. Facebook has a mind-boggling 1.23 billion users. All of us provide Facebook with data, whether we mean to or not.

How Facebook Collects Your Data

Take a look at your Facebook profile page. Unless you have your chosen to let no one except your Facebook friends see your data, people may be able to view your job and where you went to college (if you have added those details) when they view your profile. Because of my work as a social media/tech evangelist, I have a “public” profile, and visitors can even find out how to pronounce my name.

Facebook has also given us the option of letting the world know our favorite music, books, movies, and so forth. These are categories I decided long ago not to fill out. So imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that the musicians whose pages I have liked are showing up on my profile page as music I like!

Sometimes Facebook gets the data they sell to advertisers just by asking. Or sometimes, they only need to track our Facebook likes.

So . . . BOO! Facebook knows a lot about you.

About Those Facebook Questionnaires 

You know the “20 things no one knows about me” questionnaire that’s been around since the beginnings of Facebook’s rollout to the general public? Security experts have told me that these kinds of “games” were actually begun by Facebook employees. They wanted to trick people into revealing data about themselves.

I do not know if their contention is true or not. I do know, however, that these days I absolutely will not play any of the fun games that involve sharing personal information on Facebook. And it’s not because I think that Facebook is sending eyes, real or robotic, to scan my timeline. It’s the Facebook algorithm that spooks me.

As I mentioned, my profile is “public” and any breach I may experience will be my own fault. But let’s consider what could happen with a post answering questions, perhaps about your high school prom, for someone with the privacy setting: friends of friends.

When you choose “friends of friends” as your privacy setting, your post can possibly show up on the “ticker” portion (on the browser) or in the timeline of people you don’t know. Some people accept anyone who asks as a friend. You probably know many people who do that because, after all, the more friends you have, the more fun posts you get to see. Could one of these unknown “friends of friends” be a hacker trying to gain access to accounts? You never know.

Let’s go over what could happen in a worse case scenario when you post answers to a questionnaire. Maybe a friend asks you to fill answer questions about your high school prom. Fun, yes. At our age, even if our proms were awful, talking about them can be a hoot. Maybe a question reads: “What car did you use to drive to your prom?” Perhaps your answer is “a 1972 VW bug,” which was your first car.

Now think about security questions your bank, Google, Amazon, Pandora, and so on ask you to fill in. Many online providers of anything from grocery delivery to stock market management give you the option of “what was your first car” for a security question. For a hacker looking to break into your accounts, you have provided a vital piece of information. Former New York Times tech writer David Pogue lost access to his Apple ID to hackers because two of his security questions were easy guesses (What were you doing on 12/31/1999? We were all celebrating the millennium, of course). Another question was about his first car, something he had written about.

Be Careful, Not Scared

Most everyone in this group will never be hacked. We are, simply, not important enough targets, especially for malicious groups who scan Facebook for information. Still, here are some things I do that I hope will keep me safer.

  • I don’t participate in surveys, even ones from my friends. Place many, many, many sad-face emojis in this space. It’s not that I’m a party-pooper. I’m just not keen on letting strangers know facts about me.
  • I choose carefully what I share on Facebook. Yes, I do show photos of places where I am. And Facebook does have my birthdate and my hometown and where I live now. It knows where I went to high school and college and when I graduated. From that someone could deduce my age and my social security number. So I take other measures that may help cloak my information.
  • I give fake information to security questions. You can be sure that online vendors not have my real date of birth or my childhood best friend’s first name. I have some stock answers I use. I just need to make sure I remember them.

Yes, Facebook asks for many permissions when we sign up for the app. Look some time and you’ll see you you’re giving them permission to call phone numbers and take pictures and videos. I do have faith that Facebook will not do those things on its own. These are simply functions the platform and its mobile app need to function properly.

I don’t intend to give up Facebook, and I hope no one here does either. Mainly because Women of Midlife is a gathering of amazing peeps, and without our Facebook group, we wouldn’t be able to keep track of each other. I’ve merely sworn off questionnaires. You may want to, as well.

Linda Bernstein

Linda Bernstein is a professor, writer, social media consultant, and proud Baby Boomer. She has written hundreds of articles for dozens of national and international newspapers, magazines, and websites. Instagram: wordwhacker

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