What is the Facebook Data Use Policy?
Facebook is updating its policies again, a move which will inevitably lead to another round of people declaring that the company is selling their 852 photos of Jr. and posting custom legalese on their timelines in an attempt to contradict whatever new policies the company has written.
Is Facebook using your private gallery in advertising? Will establishing your own copyrights in a post make any difference? The answers are no, but what really goes on behind the scenes regarding Facebook advertising, privacy, and its Data Use Policy can be a bit murky and complex, if not a little insidious. The current round of proposed updates includes more attempts at clarifying what already exists with new language so there’s not much new there. But just what are they doing, and how can you control your own data?
It Starts With You
First and foremost, as a Facebook user you must take control of your privacy settings. Facebook’s biggest crime is a tendency to make their users ‘opt out’ of sharing information, rather than opting in. It is up to an individual user to learn about privacy settings and who will be able to access and use their information. Facebook changes things around a lot, which makes keeping track of your permissions (and finding the settings) more complex than it has to be. Even so, Facebook will not share more than you allow – the trick is to knowing what you are allowing.
Public Information: Anyone can see your public information. It is what people use to search for others, and it’s what makes the social network social. Some information is always public, no matter how private you make your profile: your name, your profile picture and cover photos, your network, your gender, and your Username/ID. If you upload a picture of your kid as your own profile image or as your cover photo, that image WILL be visible to all.
Other Public Info vs. Private Info: From here, you choose whether to make your wall and other information public, shared with your friends, or customized. The little globe icon right next to the post button indicates that something is public, the icon of two people means ‘Friends’, and the gear means that a custom permission has been set (you can customize who sees what; for example, if you want to keep your family oblivious to your more off-the-wall hobbies). However, despite what you place as your settings, the publicity of your actions depends on what you do and where you post as well. If your friend makes a public post and you comment on it, then you should expect your response to be public. If you are posting to a public group, then other people may see it.
Your friends will see what you post to your wall, what you like, and what you share. Your friends may also affect the advertising you see, they can add you to groups, and they can affect your Facebook life in other ways – such as tagging awful pictures of you. Keep track of who you friend and how you plan to interact with that person. Sometimes the interaction can get out of hand in unexpected ways.
Likes Vs. Shares – And how Social Advertising Throws This Off
When you Share something on Facebook, you expect other people to see it and pass it along – this is a given. Facebook is social after all, and you want to share things you enjoy. Keep in mind, however, that when you Like something on Facebook, you are endorsing it – which may affect the way Facebook advertises to you. Your profile and image may also appear to your friends on that or other affiliated websites. Additionally, your endorsement may appear in the advertisements that your friends see in Facebook.
Did you click ‘like’ two years ago on a friend’s photography fan page? That photography page might show up in another friend’s news feed, endorsed by you – which could get awkward depending on the content of their photography, for example.
Social Advertising has the internet in a tizzy these days. While Snopes has put the rumor that Facebook is using your private images in public advertisements to rest, what you decide to share might very well be everybody’s business, depending on your privacy settings. Things you share and your likes will be shared with your friends. Likewise, the information that you allow apps to access will be sent to those 3rd party companies.
Even if Facebook is not stealing your images to use in public advertising (and your content DOES belong to you) Facebook’s data gathering is complicated, and may reach well beyond the scope that many people realize.
Everything you do on the Facebook platform is tracked – what you click on, what you like, the information you post about yourself, where you are, and your general behaviors. This information is intended to personalize the targeted advertising to you – it’s all about the ads. Say your public information states that you are a 28 year old male in Flint, that you like a given restaurant and you like ice hockey. Even with your personal identifiers are removed, that information is still highly detailed. If someone is looking to advertise a Flint Generals event at a given restaurant, you might fit into the demographic, sparking an oddly specific advertisement to appear on your news feed.
Even if you yourself rarely click a Like button, your friends can be used to fill in the gaps. (This is why we mentioned being careful about the people you are Friending.)
Beyond the Web
Data mining is not limited to Internet activity alone. Remember those little customer loyalty cards you scan at the store for discounts? The information gathered from these cards can be fed into one of several big data mining companies who can then associate it with your Facebook account (using a hashed email or phone number). If you purchase a car at a local dealership, you may be shown an advertisement for that car dealership on Facebook even if you never Liked anything related to it.
What to Do
Does this make you uncomfortable? If not, continue on your merry way. If so, however, there are steps that can be taken to minimize your use to advertisers in this way.
Update Privacy Settings: On Facebook you should regularly update your privacy settings and check out the new features. The little lock icon in the right hand corner of Facebook’s blue nav bar along the top will take you to the privacy page which allows you to manage everything from your timeline and tagging to deleting old apps and editing your Facebook Ads permissions. This is where you control social advertising.
Audit Your Likes: If you are worried about what might show up in advertising you can go through and delete old Likes, hide or delete wall posts, and otherwise clean up your account. Even if you’ve set your security to private, this can minimize future awkward advertising and associations, and avoid giving free advertising to companies that you don’t actually want to endorse.
Addon Help: Facebook utilizes cookies and browser storage. There are a variety of browser addons and extensions that will reduce your cookie tracks throughout the web, and there are also addons that will allow you to adjust what you see and use on Facebook.
Opting Out: The real-world data mining can be controlled to a degree as well. Using a different phone number (Google Voice offers secondary phone numbers) or an alternate email than the one used with Facebook can reduce the ability for companies to associate the two. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has written a guide on how to opt out of data mining for some of the big data companies.
Calling it Quits
If all this data mining combined with concerns over the NSA’s information gathering make you want to reach for your tinfoil hat, deleting your Facebook account is an option as well. This takes about a month to do and you may still have data in their servers for up to 90 days, but it is always an option to consider. While things you have posted on other peoples’ walls or comments may not entirely disappear, it will definitely reduce your digital footprint.
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