Every day, we send more than 10 billion ‘private’ messages, ‘like’ about 4.5 billion posts and upload more than 350 million photographs of our lives to Facebook. Everything from who our friends are, to where we hang out, to what we had for dinner – and even how we feel about it – is online in one handy place for the world to see. The breadth and depth of information available about us online today is, frankly, staggering. And if used in the wrong way, it could be terrifying.
But while you choose to upload your wedding photos or the name of the company where you work, some of the data Facebook (and other companies) knows about you seems to come right out of thin air. Nearly everyone has experienced some of the creepier marketing tactics Facebook has been rolling out the past 12 months. How does Zuckerberg know you’re shopping for handbags by Marc Jacobs, when all you did was peek in the window of the bricks-and-mortar store in the mall? How is it possible that Facebook asked you about your budding relationship with your new coworker – before you were even established as an item? And isn't it oddly coincidental that those wedding dress adverts coincided with that chat you had with a friend about a potential proposal on the horizon? And with terrifyingly advanced tagging/facial recognition software, is it possible that you've been spotted in the background – or even tagged by one of Zuckerberg’s bots – in a serendipitous vacation photo by a stranger, half a world away?
Facebook’s polarizing CEO has never been shy about the mission of the company – to make the world more connected. But when does sharing information online stop being a productive, world-advancing phenomenon and start being just downright creepy? The line seems to be drawn when that interconnectivity becomes involuntary for most users, with methods to 'connect us' more efficiently only disclosed in the very, very fine print of the terms and conditions you never read before updating the app on your phone.
Here, we're shedding light on six of the shockingly invasive things Facebook is doing with your data, that may make you think twice about skimming those Ts and Cs.
6 It remembers EVERYTHING.
Those private messages you thought you were sharing with your boyfriend or girlfriend alone? Yeah, a Facebook employee may well have read them. In fact, Facebook employees can access all of your private messages dating back to 2004, in addition to every status update you ever posted, every photo you ever posted, everyone who poked you in the history of your profile and more – whether you’ve since deleted them or not.
It’s not just your posting history, either. Facebook’s technology tracks absolutely everything about your behavior, both to learn more about targeting and advertising and about how to improve their own social network product.
So your mouse hovered over an image of your friend’s vacation photos? Maybe you're in the market for a tropical getaway or discounted airline tickets. You've been
obsessively occasionally checking your ex’s profile? Let’s hit you with some singles in your area. Basically, even if you’re just absent-mindedly browsing Facebook, it’s safe to assume somebody is watching.
5 It makes cyber-stalking easy
When Facebook first rolled out its OpenGraph search software, millions of tech-savvy users warned us about the potential for its abuse. OpenGraph stores data in the form of likes, personal information and other tidbits of data from every one of the social network’s 1.2 billion users worldwide, and slaps it all into one database that’s easily accessed by anyone who wants to see it.
OK, it is kind of a cool thing to easily pull up a list of movies, beers or restaurants near you that all of your friends have already vouched for. But let’s take it a little further. What if someone wanted to quickly access a list of everyone currently enlisted in the U.S. Army? Anyone who’s shared their work information in their “About Me” sections instantly pops up. Looking for 18-22 year old females in an open relationship? It’s at your fingertips.
In this case, Facebook isn't being overtly creepy, but it certainly facilitates users in indulging in potentially creepy tendencies. The incredibly invasive data Facebook enables others to access without our express consent is unsettling at best, and dangerous at worst.
4 It follows you around the Web
OK, you’re a savvy Internet user. You know better than to think your ‘private’ chats are really private, or that anything you've posted online could ever actually be permanently deleted. You use Facebook only minimally, rarely posting or even logging in at all.
Guess what? Facebook is still tracking you. Even if you’re not logged in to your account, the all-seeing social network has already tagged you and knows exactly where you go on the web and how often you go there. Logged out to check out some NSFW videos you don’t want your Mom to accidentally see in your feed? Facebook now knows your kinks. Logged out of your computer to let a friend check their notifications? Facebook knows who’s spending the night at your house tonight – and how frequently these sleepovers occur.
Plus, on top of this creepy software, Facebook has recently partnered with and acquired a number of external companies that give it easy access to even more of your sensitive data. WhatsApp, acquired by Facebook for a disproportionately large sum early in 2014, handles about as many private messages as there are text messages on the planet per day. It’s a gold mine of personal information that will no doubt soon be analyzed for marketing and hyper-targeting online.
3 It follows you around offline
So you already knew all of that? Did you also know that even if you're not logged in on your desktop or mobile device, Facebook knows your exact location – down to precise latitude and longitude coordinates – even if you just have the app installed on your phone?
That’s right. If you’ve installed the Facebook app on your phone and have enabled Location Services, they’ve got 24/7 access to your mobile GPS coordinates. That’s how Facebook knows to suggest ‘liking’ Chipotle before you even check in there or even mention it online. It’s how they know you checked out a Marc Jacobs handbag at the mall or even that you haven’t been sleeping at your own home for the past few days.
It gets creepier. Perhaps you've had experience of Facebook automatically recommending that you tag your friends in the photos that you post? That’s because they've developed a technology called DeepFace, and it’s got the ability to recognize faces with an accuracy of about 97% - better than some humans.
And DeepFace isn't only recognizing your face in photos that your friends are posting. Remember that German couple you accidentally photobombed at DisneyLand 6 years ago? If they shared a photo with their friends, and you just happen to be in the background, Facebook knows you were there. For that matter, at any event where people have cameras, it’s a fair bet to assume someone will post the photos online. And if your face is scanned – absolutely anywhere, in anyone’s photographs – Facebook has it logged.
This takes surveillance to an entirely new level of invasiveness.
2 It knows when you're in a relationship – before you do.
Consider everything we already know, and connect the dots. Facebook tracks your GPS via your mobile phone, including how often you’ve gone out to restaurants, bars and movie theaters. It knows what time you get home at night. If you check your notifications as the last thing before bed and the first thing when you wake up – it knows exactly when you're asleep. It knows who’s logged on to your devices and at what hour of the night. Based on this information, and who’s with you when you’re doing all of these things, it’s already pretty easy to deduce a budding romance between two users.
But there’s more! As a Valentine’s Day special announcement, Facebook revealed that it had developed a super-creepy algorithm. Complete with the information above as well as a number of seemingly unrelated ‘likes’ and types of shares, Facebook revealed it could accurately predict the likelihood of two of their users becoming a couple – before the people involved actually knew themselves.
1 It's set to blur the lines between Facebook and reality
In March 2014, Mark Zuckerberg and co. acquired Oculus Rift, the widely popular, straight out of science fiction virtual reality platform. When asked about the deal, the CEO told the press that Facebook wants to strategically start building the next major platform that will come after mobile tech. However, knowing what we now know about how the social network uses mobile technology to mine our personal data and even predict our own futures better than ourselves, are we really prepared for Facebook to blur the lines between our online profiles and real life? The startling answer may already be too late.