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Facebook spends an awful amount of time defending its data practices. The social network’s hunger for users’ personal information has led to it adopting any means necessary for harvesting as much data as possible.
This means that even if you never sign up to Facebook, the social network will have some information on you. And it’s all thanks to shadow profiles. But what are Facebook shadow profiles? And do you have one? Read on to find out…
What Are Shadow Profiles and Do You Have One?
To understand what shadow profiles are, consider this analogy. Say there are two friends, Becky and John. Neither of them are on Facebook.
But Becky gives in and signs up. She creates an account, installs the app, and gets to work building her profile. While setting up, Facebook asks if Becky would like to provide her contacts to help Facebook locate her existing friends on the website. Becky thinks it’s a great way to kickstart her life on Facebook and grants Facebook permission.
As soon as she does so, Facebook combs through Becky’s contacts and scoops all the available information such as phone numbers, email addresses, and other data.
This enables Facebook to figure out the Facebook users Becky might know already. It uses this data to populate the “People You May Know” feature, helping Becky quickly and easily add friends to her social network.
While this may sound harmless enough, while gathering data from Becky’s phone, Facebook’s algorithms also collect details on some of her friends who don’t have a Facebook account.
Facebook takes this opportunity to build profiles based on the preliminary data it has acquired. This includes a name, phone number, email address, and more besides. Hence, even if you’ve never signed up for Facebook, the company could have your information on file, and a rudimentary sense of who you are.
To know more about what data Facebook has collected, here’s how to find out what Facebook knows about you.
This bank of data comes in handy later when Becky convinces John to join Facebook as well. As soon as he does that, Facebook is already aware of which profiles to recommend to John.
And that’s just one source of John’s shadow profile. Hundreds of people, irrespective of their relationship with John, might have signed up for Facebook and allowed it to access their contacts list.
Has Facebook Disclosed These Activities?
Under Networks and Connections, you will find an excerpt that says “We also collect contact information if you choose to upload, sync or import it from a device (such as an address book or call log or SMS log history), which we use for things like helping you and others find people you may know and for the other purposes listed below.”
Plus, there’s another section called “Things others do and information they provide about you” that states “We also receive and analyze content, communications, and information that other people provide when they use our Products. This can include information about you, such as when others share or comment on a photo of you, send a message to you, or upload, sync or import your contact information.”
The last part which reads “sync or import your contact information” directly points at shadow profiles and how Facebook uses the information it collects.
Is There Anything You Can Do About It?
Unfortunately, you don’t have any direct control over shadow profiles. Whenever a Facebook user who has you as a contact on their phone signs up to Facebook, your personal information will be added to your shadow profile.
Therefore, unless you’re comfortable with switching to a new phone number and email address, you can not do anything about your shadow profile.
You can also request your friends who actively use Facebook to delete the contacts they’ve uploaded. They can do so by heading over to the Manage Contacts page on Facebook. Of course, they will have to keep the sync settings turned off after this. Unfortunately, this is not really practical since you’ll have to ask everyone you know who is on Facebook and has your contact details to follow the procedure.
If you do end up getting a new phone number and email address, the best thing then is to not give it out to everyone. Only to people who you know understand personal security and are understand Facebook’s privacy settings. And before you even consider that you should read our guide to Facebook Privacy so you too understand what’s going on.
Will Facebook Ever Backtrack on Shadow Profiles?
We suspect Facebook will never give up on shadow profiles, as, even after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, shadow profiles still exist.
Facebook clearly believes they’re crucial for the social network so that no one feels lost when they sign up for the first time. It is undoubtedly a matter of worry, and the weakest link in Facebook’s defense of your private data.
All you can do is educate yourself. So, read up on how to limit how much of your personal data is being shared or perhaps consider switching to one of these Facebook alternatives which don’t steal your data.