It was back in 2018 that Facebook was embroiled in a controversy when it was caught sharing data of more than 87 million users with data analytics company Cambridge Analytica. Mark Zuckerberg had to testify for that in front of the US Congress.
Post immense backlash, Facebook activated project ‘Damage Control’ where it said that it would deploy AI and online tool to secure its users’ data. Has it yet? Only Mark knows.
Most social networks collect data to tailor their services in a way that users spend more time on their platform which later leads to more money from advertisers. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing but there is a fine line between targeted advertising and unscrupulous surveillance.
It’s all about the money
The whole business of selling ads is a money-making revenue model that fetches Facebook up to 20 billion in a year.
There have been reports that Facebook is going to integrate all of its services – Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram under a single umbrella and offer a seamless interoperable platform to its users. The transformation has already begun.
With all under one roof, it would be easier for Facebook to target more ads as it would also rope in data that WhatsApp users will feed into this ecosystem. That’s exactly where the plot thickens.
My way or the highway
Hang on! Are WhatsApp users dumping the service just because WhatsApp decided to share some of its data with Facebook? Because if that’s the case then I don’t suppose these WhatsApp users are aware of the amount of data that platforms like Facebook and Instagram already have on them.
It’s time for a reality check.
Data that Facebook collects
Facebook meticulously scrutinizes the identity of its users and its targeting stretches beyond the realms of just ad targeting.
Like WhatsApp now, Facebook asks users to agree to its data policy before they can use the platform. It states that the data it collects “includes information about the websites and apps you visit, your use of our services on those websites and apps, as well as information the developer or publisher of the app or website provides to you or us.”
It not only gets basic information about your age, employers, relationship status, email ID, location, etc but it also tracks what you are browsing on other websites.
“There are three main ways in which Facebook uses the information we get from other websites and apps: providing our services to these sites or apps; improving safety and security on Facebook; and enhancing our own products and services. I’ll share a little more about each of these, but first I want to be clear: We don’t sell people’s data. Period.”
It’s not like other websites don’t track your web activity and store your data. Since Facebook is the pioneer in that field, most tend to point the finger in the social network giant’s direction.
The social network giant deploys a technology called Facebook Pixel which is an invisible code that’s dropped onto the other websites and allows that site and Facebook to track users’ activity. Not only that, but Facebook also stores your IP Address, browser and OS information.
Remember, Facebook also has access to your microphone and camera. There are speculations that the company also listens to your conversations using the mic but there is no proof to support that theory.
Facebook even collects your location data via the “know your location’ option on the desktop app of the smartphone application. This is for location-targeted ads.
It is true that most of the users don’t even know about the kind of data that Facebook is collecting about them. The fact is that if you are on Facebook, everything you do on that platform is being tracked by the company.
Though Facebook says that it does not sell the user data to third-parties, this surveillance-based advertising is being opposed by many.
Data that Instagram collects
Instagram is a Facebook-owned photo-sharing platform that also keeps a tab on what its users are sharing and searching for on the app.
Everything you do on the app is tracked. It knows the amount of time you have spent on the app and how long you haven’t logged in.
Overall, there are 25 categories of information that are collected. It collects information about your login ID and password (obviously) for verification purposes. It also keeps a tab of your search history, all the polls you took part in, your comments and responses and if you ever changed your username and information.
Some users also tend to link their smartphone contacts to Instagram to help connect with friends. This way the app gains access to your contact list and simultaneously recommends suggestions.
By default, Instagram tracks your location so that you can add a location to your posts and stories. Instagram also tracks your browsing history and displays ads to you. In order to serve you better ads, it also uses the data Facebook collects to help target ads better.
Is there an escape?
The harsh reality is that if you are online there’s a 90 percent chance that you will be tracked. Google, Facebook, Amazon are some of the biggest data harvesting firms on the planet and without user data, these multi-billion dollar companies wouldn’t be where they are today.
Each platform gives its users a degree of control over how their data can be used. Like Facebook allows its users to restrict location on the app, Instagram also offers certain tools that restrict the platform from displaying ads to you.
Despite these tools, there is still some surveillance and tracking that all these platforms do in the background. If you are fed up with this ambiguity around your social media data and want to absolutely sure that these platforms cannot track you or use your data, get off the grid and delete your social media identity. That’s is the only way to be sure.