Facebook has 1.393 billion active monthly members from across the world. And Facebook knows a surprising amount about us – information we willingly volunteer.
This isn’t just basic details like name, age, and education: some of these things are very personal. It’s not just a small part of the world either: there are 157 million active daily users in America and Canada; 217 million from Europe; and 253 million in Asia. Recent research even suggests Facebook takes prominence over the internet in countries like Nigeria, India, and Brazil. Meanwhile, Canada takes the trophy for the most active members.
Let us not forget that social networks are businesses. So what does this particular business know about you? We guarantee there will be some things you definitely won’t like.
Basic Information About You
The line between our personal lives and our online trail is immediately blurred. We must surrender some basic facts when we sign up. Name, email, gender, and birthday: these are the things we’re more than accustomed to giving over when joining any service. Naturally, Facebook also needs to know who you’re friends with – otherwise, what’s the point?
Further platforms, however, don’t typically want to know about your education (unless it’s LinkedIn), family, sexuality, relationships, political and religious views, where you live, and if you have your own website or blog.
From all of this, you can be slotted into a demographic. The core demographic to target is ABC1, encompassing managerial or administrative professionals with high income. It’s also a positive if you’re in the traditional target age bracket, 18-34. Fortunately – for Facebook, at least – ages 25-34 accounts for 29.7% of users, the most common age range. There have been plenty of reports about how Facebook is falling out of favour with the youth, but it also remains the most popular social network for teenagers in the USA (admittedly, the number of older people on Facebook, too, has risen).
According to a report by the Pew Research Centre in January last year, 78% of internet users who earn above $75,000 a year use Facebook. This is all important data because it means they can command higher prices for advertising. In fact, in 2014, the internet giant boasted full-year revenue of $12.47 billion, an increase of 58% year-over-year.
And thanks to all those times you’ve tagged yours or your friends’ locations in status updates and photos, your ads can be personalised further to include advertisers in your locality. If you’re on Android, Tasker can be used to automatically turn off your GPS in certain areas, which aside from strengthening your privacy, can also improve battery life. Here are some tips for looking after your battery, and some more that should extend its life further.
What You’re Interested In
Your profile also documents your ‘likes’ – music, films, books – while your timeline keeps record of websites and articles you’ve shared. This builds up your digital trail.
By ‘liking’ television shows, for example, Facebook can tailor your advertisements to better suit you in a similar way that Google does. Because anything you post to your timeline or anyone else’s is also recorded (as are the so-called ‘private messages’, which may surprise some), this is also true of their trending topics. And this data is sold on. The social network has admitted that raw information is compiled about which shows garner the most attention, and is passed on to certain stations like ABC, CNN, and Fox.
Then again, this data supposedly doesn’t contain personal information, unlike Twitter.
In a January 2015 study, it was revealed that intelligent machines assessed the ‘likes’ of over 86,000 Facebook users to predict personalities, with surprisingly accurate results. The investigation examined five key traits: agreeableness; conscientiousness; extraversion; neuroticism; and openness. The test was created by Cambridge University’s Dr David Stillwell, who believes computers can tell more about a person than even family members. He told The Independent:
“The ability to judge personality is an essential component of social living, from day-to-day decisions to long-term plans such as whom to marry, trust, hire or elect as president… The results of such data analysis can be very useful in aiding people when making decisions.”
This may sound particularly unsettling to comic book fans; Captain America: The Winter Soldier focussed on the idea that an intelligent algorithm can foresee undesirables in society and eliminate them before they potentially act against those in power.
What You Look Like
This really goes into creepy territory; what it enables you to do, however, is pretty cool. Facebook can suggest tags of you in friends’ photos. But far from simply telling what’s a face, and what’s, say, a close-up of a boiled egg, Facebook can distinguish you so well that it will, reportedly, automatically suggest tagging you in any pictures on other people’s albums.
DeepFace, their facial recognition project, can compare two different images and locate the same person in each, regardless of lighting or angle. This essentially means that Facebook knows your face, with the same level of accuracy as the human brain (around 97%). DeepFace views your visage as data, notices distinctive patterns – cheek bones, chin, eyebrows – symmetry, and relative measurements. It then creates an abstract based on a nine-layer neural network (a series of interconnected nodes similar to the synapses of the human brain). It can then recommend tags for similar patterns.
Fortunately, you can review your tags, and deselect unflattering images. You’ll also receive an email when you’re tagged.
It’s not the first to use such algorithms either: Google’s work into Deep Learning resulted in the Google Brain project, with competition from Microsoft’s Adam, aiming to improve implementation.
It’s not all bad: artists, Brian House and Jason Rabie used the programme in 2013 to download the recognition templates of themselves and their friends, and presented these as the “Eternal Portraits”. Brian explains DeepFace and its implications:
“Unlike a photograph, which captures some ephemeral expression of who you are at a particular moment, a face recognition template forever remains your portrait. It is all possible photos, taken and untaken, by which you, or someone else, might document your life.”
It is unquestionably clever, but described like that, DeepFace does sit particularly uneasily.
You and Facebook, In Summary
If you volunteer this information, ie. either actively inputting data or simply sharing and liking topics and articles, these are a few things Facebook knows about you: Name; email address; gender; date of birth; family members; friends; education; sexual preference; relationship status; religious views; your job; your location; political standing; address of your own website or blog; favourite music, books, TV shows and films; phone number; messages you post on your own timeline; messages other people post on your timeline; contents of private messages; sites you frequent; topics you talk about; and what you look like.
On top of all of that, concerns have been expressed over Facebook’s mobile app listening in to a conversation – 15 seconds of it after you finish writing a status update anyway – and how the social networking site can be used by security agencies like the NSA and GCHQ. There are ample reasons to believe Facebook is used to spy on you.
Of course, this isn’t an isolated case. Your right to privacy is continually being infringed upon. Your smartphone spies on you. Meanwhile, Google knows plenty about you. The UK Government has even drafted a bill to give them permission to keep an eye on your online activities.
Things look grim, I know, but don’t get too paranoid. Yes, it’s easy to become complacent and give away a large part of your identity. Facebook is using your data to sell things. Most companies do. Magazines and newspapers, for instance, have guides to their audience, demographic details to allow writers and editors to tailor their content in order to sell more copies. For accessibility, we have to volunteer a certain amount of information about ourselves.
What efforts do you go to in order to stop Facebook’s monopoly of privacy? Are you concerned about similar social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn? Maybe you’ve even ditched Facebook? Let us know below.
Image Credits: “Don’t Panic!” by Dhbillings.