Security Social Media

Digital Shadow Exposes What Facebook Really Knows About You

Philip Bates 06-04-2015

How much can people discover about you over social media? It began as a mere marketing stunt, but Digital Shadow remains a very useful (and potentially scary) application.


Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs is a sci-fi game that works on a smart premise: that our lives can be laid out to a hacker and used against us. Our family, our friends, our interests, our personalities: they build up a digital trail, leaving us exposed. It sounds like an Asimov or Bradbury concept, but the accompanying Digital Shadow, used to advertise the game, shows us that this dystopia isn’t too far removed from today.

By allowing it access to Facebook, Digital Shadow gets to know you. But how accurate is it really? I let it loose on my profile to find out…

What Actually Is Digital Shadow?

You might not have previously heard of Digital Shadow, but its potential as a marketing tool was genius. The idea is to make the video game believable. Watch Dogs, released last year, is an open-world game in which you play as a hacker, intent on seeking justice on those who have hurt your family. To do so, you hack into Chicago’s infrastructure and access personal data from the city’s inhabitants.

It was a commercial and critical success, selling four million copies in its first week.

Digital Shadow was part of its marketing campaign, a free app that scours a small section of your online trail. It simply states that “you are not a person. You are a data cluster.” It’s a sobering thought, and a useful tool to remind people not to surrender so much data.


Starting Out

Digital Shadow - infiltrating target

It’s very easy to use. You just sign in using Facebook as you might when commenting on sites.

Within 10 seconds, it’s pulled together all it needs to know. Ubisoft says that “the hope behind the app isn’t to make you afraid of leaving a social footprint. Much like the game itself, the Digital Shadow app is meant to provoke thought and conversation, and perhaps lead to further exploration of our increasingly digital world.”  But you’d never believe it’s not there to intimidate and scare you with the accompanying disturbing graphics.

I’m naturally very concerned about online privacy. Combine this paranoia with a laziness that has left me with the same display photo for the past few years, and I predict that Digital Shadow won’t find out too much about me. Let’s see, shall we…?


What Does It Actually Know?

Straight away, Digital Shadow asserts that I can be identified with 94.6% accuracy. Facebook uses DeepFace, a facial recognition project that compares two different images and locates the same individual in each. This allows you to tag people with ease. It’s also deeply unsettling: Facebook knows what you look like.

Fortunately, my contacts are a law unto themselves. They tag me just so I see said images, regardless of whether I’m in them or not. That’s why two of the four displayed images supposedly purporting to be me actually feature my Aunty and a baby.

The other two are, indeed, me; interestingly, both are looking slightly away from the camera, and in one, I’m attempting to conceal my face. I try this three separate times to see exactly what Digital Shadow reckons I look like. The first search is pretty successful: three of the displayed photos feature my face. The second is utterly useless, because I don’t appear at all. One of these images shows a hedgehog. The third has mixed results.

Digital Shadow - who I amThis is just an algorithm. If a real hacker had access to my photos, I’ve no doubt that a wider sample would garner an entirely realistic impression of me. And I don’t like my picture being taken. Those who indulge in selfies will get more accurate results.


Next up, it focuses on my relationships with my online friends. Fortunately, the ‘pawns’ are unidentified. Apparently, I exhibit “low risk of exposure.” I don’t know what would be exposed, but this information is nevertheless a relief.

This is swiftly followed by: Stalkers (who interact with me the most); Liabilities (contacts who tag me the most, supposedly able to weaken me); Obsessions (those who don’t reciprocate conversation, or as Digital Shadow puts it, “potentially hostile”); and Scapegoats (people I might sacrifice because I don’t speak to them often).

The friends listed as Liabilities aren’t the people I immediately thought were tagging me in photos. After searching through my albums, I concede that they have in the last five years. But another, my Aunty, doesn’t appear there, despite attracting my attention to pictures, charity fundraisers, and petitions. Instead, she appears in my Obsessions list, ie. contacts who could “be tapped as allies in an attack against you.” I’ll have words with her!

This is a marketing stunt: you need to bear that in mind here. Deducing that family and friends have nefarious plans is a bit unrealistic.


I hope.

I’ve also got to question what interactions it keeps track of. I presume simple status updates and public conversations because I frequently engage one of my Obsessions in a two-way dialogue via private messaging. This shows the limitations of Digital Shadow: you only give it access to what friends can see; Facebook, meanwhile, can read your private conversations.

Predicting My Personality

I’m then labelled a submissive, “a conformist and demonstrate compliance. You will be governable if pressured.” While I’d argue the majority of people are “governable if pressured,” I rebel against the idea of conformity. Yet it’s quite a loose concept: what am I conforming to, exactly? I don’t go on protests, but I do write and read articles against conformity, about Occupy 10 Occupy Movement Websites You Have To Check Out Unless you've been living under a rock, then the odds are pretty good that you've heard a little bit about the "Occupy" protests that started in New York City on Wall Street and then spread... Read More , about unethical anti-privacy laws How Britain's "Snoopers' Charter" Might Affect You British Prime Minister David Cameron intends to resurrect the "Snooper's Charter", a privacy-breaching set of new measures to enable enhanced monitoring of communications by the security services. Can it be stopped? Read More .

I predict, then, that most people would be labelled a submissive. Other labels include Volatile, Deviant, Depressive, and Neurotic.

My most used words vary wildly: grateful, thankful, inflict, killing, stupid. Many of these were, I’m sure, said in jest (I’m not owning up to being a psychopath), while ‘grateful’ comes from the decision to participate in an ill-conceived “Five Days of Gratitude” meme (I lasted a day).

By comparing my results to those of my friends, I can also find out the personality traits of, for instance, MUO’s Security editor, Christian Cawley. He, too, is apparently a conformist – something I know to be incorrect.

Digital Shadow - activity

More interesting is when I’m most active, something I wouldn’t be aware of otherwise. I mostly share links and am particularly active on Thursday evenings. This is pretty likely; I’m typically away from the computer on Fridays and Saturdays, so like to share as many articles as possible before the weekend.

Digital Shadow is also right about my age (my DOB is stated in my profile, so that’s not a surprise), and general locality. The latter might be particularly concerning if, in my three attempts, it had located the road I actually live on. Instead, it’s plumped for three polarised places, all pretty far from where I live. It’s also wrong about my education, and takes a guess at my occupation. I’m freelance, though, so this likely put a spanner in the works.

As for my annual salary… I wish!

The most worrying part is its password generation. Based on all my results, Digital Shadow displays a list of buzzwords that have the potential to give hackers access to emails, PayPal, Amazon, and countless other services! There are plenty of reasons to do online banking 6 Common Sense Reasons Why You Should Bank Online If You Aren't Already [Opinion] How do you usually do your banking? Do you drive to your bank? Do you wait in long lines, just to deposit one check? Do you receive monthly paper statements? Do you file away those... Read More , but if you’re concerned about security, this section is especially revealing.

Fortunately, this is all based on personality, so if you’ve followed tips for creating a memorable password 6 Tips For Creating An Unbreakable Password That You Can Remember If your passwords are not unique and unbreakable, you might as well open the front door and invite the robbers in for lunch. Read More , I doubt many of these will be anywhere close to the mark.

Digital Shadow even suggested ‘Spyro’ (or variations thereof) as my password because I shared an article about PS1 games I still love to play Get Nostalgic: Four PS1 Games We Still Love Going Back To You can keep your Xbox One, PS4 and Wii U; the original PlayStation will always hold a special place in a generation's hearts. Read More !

What’s interesting about this is what Digital Shadow doesn’t look at. Much more can be discovered by assessing what sites and articles I’ve either shared or liked. This is ignored here – but Facebook does take note in order to fashion adverts for your tastes. Indeed, early this year, it was revealed that intelligent machines had assessed the ‘likes’ of over 86,000 volunteers, and predicted their personalities with shocking accuracy.

How Much Does Digital Shadow Reveal?

Results vary wildly. It depends on how much time you spend on Facebook, how many photos you’re tagged in, how often you update your status.

As a marketing stunt, Ubisoft has done brilliantly. It’s memorable, emotive, and creepy. As a tool to find out about your digital trail, it’s the tip of the iceberg: Facebook knows even more What Does Facebook Know About You? Why You Should Delete Facebook What does Facebook really know about you? One thing's for sure: if you want online privacy, Facebook is best avoided. Read More . Nonetheless, this could be wake-up call for millions of people.

Why not give Digital Shadow a go? How accurate is it about you?

Related topics: Facebook, Online Privacy.

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  1. Anonymous
    August 28, 2015 at 10:22 am

    It seems the app doesn't work anymore, I've checked app permission on FB e browser extensions that might have blocked it, but still doesn't charge when it's supposed to import data from the platform. Has anybody else experienced the same recently?

  2. Darrell
    April 11, 2015 at 2:53 am

    QUOTE: "Digital Shadow asserts that I can be identified with 94.6% accuracy"
    This figure was culminated with what Group, Age, Sex and Number or was it Random ?
    IT is right to say that Marketing and/or a Sinister and Malevolent Entity is in our midst of "Social Venturing"! To essentially (sell one's self) to the rest of the World via Social Media pathways, one would conclude that Democracy allows us to be non vigilant and somewhat careless and/or complacent in our behaviour and as a consequence we are either being Sold or Sold too without our knowledge or consent.
    This is the ultimate price each and everyone of us have to pay for what we all call Freedom IF we continue to run Naked through the WWW Forests of the World.
    Interestingly enough - If one was to research it a little more? one would be quite surprised to see who is "Perched" high above! High enough to be out of - not only Social View, I would like to call it Social and Societies view "literally".

  3. Rob
    April 10, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    I just tried this out, and it didn't have much info on me. Perhaps I just don't use Facebook enough. It also predicted my income at something ridiculously low though. I must give off the air of poverty.

  4. mojotiger
    April 10, 2015 at 3:31 am

    The is a TRAP! When you check this out, and then try to see the information, YOU install the app and login to facebook. The software does t=find some infomation, but the quality and accuracy of the "information" and their interpretation, border on the wild/bizarre.

    When you remove the app from your facebook account, THEY keep all the data YOU just "shared" and allowed them to get and compile. SNEAKY bastards!

    • Philip Bates
      April 30, 2015 at 7:22 pm

      The app says it doesn't. Obviously we can't prove it doesn't, but neither can we prove otherwise.

  5. JD Wohlever
    April 8, 2015 at 11:55 am

    My Digital Shadow said this about me:
    You display unstable temperament and threaten to react with violence when provoked."

    What The Fudge?

    • mojotiger
      April 10, 2015 at 3:33 am

      Same for me and couldn't be less accurate. This is actually pretty creepy.

    • Philip Bates
      April 30, 2015 at 7:20 pm

      Yep, I agree. That bit's nonsense. It's the least accurate thing Digital Shadow predicts.

  6. Mike
    April 7, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    Pffrt, obviously it doesn't want to know anything about me ;-)

    We could not log you in: You can't log in to this app because you do not meet this app's requirements for country, age or other criteria.

    • Mike
      April 7, 2015 at 8:17 pm

      To clarify: This app is only accessible in the US.

    • Philip Bates
      April 30, 2015 at 7:15 pm

      That's odd, Mike: I'm pretty sure it's supposed to work in the US, but if not, I apologise.

  7. NullDivision
    April 7, 2015 at 11:50 am

    This is kind of retarded. Let's start off simple:

    1. When logging in with Facebook you (sometimes inadvertently) give permission to the app in question to access various pieces of information. This is what the app calls a digital footprint. In some cases this doesn't even have to be public information because some apps might require your friends list which you may have set to private.
    2. Facebook logs and creates a cookie for any site that has the Facebook API exposed. This is why you end up with that watch you were checking out on Amazon being advertised on Facebook moments after you checked it out.
    3. The question itself "How much Facebook knows about you" is kind of self-referential when you consider that we're talking about how much Facebook knows about what's stored about you on its own servers.

    I'm not saying I agree in any way with Facebook's privacy policy, its modus operandi or the way the API exposure. I'm just saying that this article is asking the wrong questions and answering none of them.

    A lot of people don't know if and how they can edit their privacy settings. Even more people don't know how Facebook tracks and exposes their information. If anything, Digital Shadow serves to point out how gullible people are in trusting third party apps to show how insecure their information is.

    • Philip Bates
      April 30, 2015 at 7:18 pm


      I understand what you're saying. But there are articles already on how much FB knows about you, and what can be done about that (I've written some of the former), so I wanted an article just to remind people that FB isn't the purely positive thing some believe. I think raising awareness is half the battle.

      Thanks for commenting. :)

  8. bben
    April 7, 2015 at 10:40 am

    I would be interested to know what FB knows about me. I am not a FB user and have never had a FB account. However, I do know that several people have tagged my image in their photos.

    • Aminor
      April 13, 2015 at 3:09 pm

      Errrr... how can you be tagged if you don't have a Facebook account?

    • bben
      April 13, 2015 at 9:12 pm

      You don't have to have a FB account for someone to identify you in a pic - And the act of identifying you is what tag means. Once someone has identified you, then if their account is not secured -as most are not, then anyone can find that pic with your name on it. Even if it is private, FB can still see it and still sell that info if they choose - YOU agreed to that when you signed up for FB. That is a part of what makes FB so invasive. I see people screaming about what the NSA knows from their snooping. But FB members give away the same private information to FB who then sells it to anyone who wants it.

  9. ketu
    April 7, 2015 at 8:52 am

    my neigbour got a st unning Dodge Challenger Coupe by part-time working online from home..
    ———————- >­W­W­W­.N­E­T­J­O­B­8­0­.C­O­M­

  10. Alan Gurling
    April 7, 2015 at 8:07 am

    Quite interesting that I'm having a hard time finding the link to Digital Shadow in the article. Well played. :)