My Facebook Data Journey

You know how we sometimes fall down those digital rabbit holes-- you know, the ones where you start reading an interesting article about the archeology of ancient Mayan structures and end up looking at Ancient Aliens memes?

I fell down one of those this past week upon reading an article about Facebook's latest scandal involving Cambridge Analytica. If you aren't familiar with this issue, here are some links to get you started: onetwothree.

Anyway, reading about this got me thinking about how I use Facebook and other forms of social media. I would consider myself a typical user, using these sites to connect with friends, family, and like-minded individuals online to form communities. In these communities, we freely share updates that are pertinent to the community. Sometimes this can involve sharing photos of loved one, news of a work promotion, or a retweet of the latest buzz in my industry.

Of course, I wondered what Facebook would possibly have to share from me as a typical user. I took the liberty of downloading my data (explanation here), and here is what I found.

Troubling

  •  There are records of all of my Facebook messages, including photos and videos.

  •  Contacts from my phone are included in this data dump.

  •  It keeps track of my payment history. No sign of whether or not it retains card data yet.

  •  All of my photos were saved. Every awkward prom picture, ex-boyfriend headshot, and shameless selfie seemed to be available to me.

Less Troubling

  • Your likes and (interpreted) interests are kept and shared with marketers. I say interpreted because some of my likes were things that I actually do not like, such as Weight Watchers.

  • The entire ad section, ironically. I technically gave permission for that info to be shared *, so cool.

The pattern that I was noticed was that I was uncomfortable with Facebook having access to more personal aspects of my life, such as finances, personal contact with others, and images. Furthermore, these are the most meme-able bits of information, making them a source for humor and worry. Interestingly, what I was actually okay with was the use of my likes and ad interaction data being used to personalize my experience with advertisers and brands. As someone in the industry, it is difficult to imagine having to take a step back in this regard, and I understand  the risks associated with allowing access to my data.

That's why, to the best of my ability,

I limit what I do share.

*What I find troubling, however, is that I did not consent to all of the information that was shared being passed around to different companies to effectively market to me and my friends. For example, I was not aware that I was at risk if one of my friends utilized a certain app, but how could I know? They make the access less than transparent to the average user, making their use seem ill-intentioned and sneaky, leading up to issues like this. That's because, not only did I not 100% realize what I was giving to them just by simply being a member of the site, but this data is being held by a less than trustworthy social media hub to be used by entities that I do not wish to have my information. Worse yet, those in charge have expressed thatthere may be similar large-scale issues in the future, meaning that this may not be the last we see about Facebook's data policies. This goes against the statement released publicly on Facebookby Mark Zuckerberg himself.

Here are my final thoughts. Was the information saved by Facebook sketchy? Yes; I totally think that there was much more than was necessary saved. Some of it actually made me uneasy. Do I think that they should stop completely? Of course not. Online strategic marketing initiatives, when policed effectively, have made a positive impact on our lives and has changed the way we reach out to audiences.

Ya know, though, just in case...

Was your information compromised? How do you change important settings? Here's your next rabbit hole.