We all know Facebook violates our privacy. However, many of us underestimate how intrusive this is. (Hint: it is worse than you can ever imagine.) Facebook is not just spying on our interests and activities but our lifestyle, political alignment, deepest secrets and other personal issues we probably prefer keeping secret.
Facebook monitors you so closely that it probably knows you better than you do. As you are about to find out, deleting your Facebook account or even refusing to use Facebook or any of its sister services will not stop Facebook from tracking you. Facebook creates and maintains a profile page for you even if you do not use any of its services and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
10 Your political ideology
Facebook knows your political ideology even if you have never revealed it on any of its apps or liked the page of a political candidate. Facebook determines your political leaning by looking at your activities across its services. It then uses this information to categorize you as a liberal, moderate or conservative.
How Facebook really narrows down on your political beliefs remains unclear. Some analysts think it tracks your interactions with politically exposed associations. For instance, liking or interacting with the Facebook page of say, the National Rifle Association, will lead Facebook to conclude you are a conservative.
9 Your love life
Facebook knows when you are in love, months before you officially post in on your profile or wall. Thanks to years of analyzing billions (or even trillions) of data, Facebook can accurately predict the behavior to two would-be lovebirds.
Facebook knows something is brewing when it notices a sudden increase in the comments and engagement between two people. Would-be lovebirds start leaving an average of 1.53 posts per day on each other’s wall 85 days before making their relationship official. This increases to 1.67 posts per day 12 days before the relationship begins.
However, things slow down a bit when the new lovers begin their relationship. Their comments, messages and interactions generally become lower. However, lower does not mean bad. If anything, it means the relationship is healthy. The latest comments, messages and interactions always contain more worthwhile content than those sent before the relationship began.
8 Your call, SMS and MMS logs
Facebook saves the details of every call, SMS and MMS you send or receive. It saves everything about these phone calls including the names and phone numbers of the caller and recipient and the date, time and duration of the phone call.
Facebook retains this information for years. In 2018, some users who downloaded their data archives containing information Facebook had on them, found call logs and SMS messages dating back to 2015. Luckily for iOS users, this extreme breach of privacy is limited to Android devices since Apple does not allow third-party apps access such information.
In its usual fashion, Facebook denied it got access to its Android users call and SMS logs without permission. This is partly true since the feature was auto opt-in particularly with early versions of Android. You automatically agree to it by downloading and using the Facebook app.
However, several users have accused Facebook of illegally accessing their call and SMS data in later versions of Android that require Facebook to ask for permission to access your phone, SMS and MMS data. They claim Facebook accessed their calls and messages even after they declined its request.
7 Your existence
Many people do not use Facebook or have deleted their Facebook accounts over privacy concerns. However, this does not mean they are free of Facebook’s nosiness. Facebook minds your business even if you do not use its services. It knows you exist and has probably created a profile for you on Facebook.
Everyone has a Facebook profile as long as they have friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends, etc. that use Facebook. These so-called shadow profiles are literally invisible to the naked eye, since they only exist on Facebook’s servers.
Let us assume a hypothetical scenario where you do not use Facebook but your friends do. Facebook uploads and saves their contacts on its servers when they sign up. It then links these phone numbers with existing Facebook users, who it suggests they add as friends. That is the “people you may know” feature we see on our home feed.
Facebook creates a shadow profile for people like you who do not have a profile. It improves the information on your shadow profile as more of your friends sign up and upload their contacts. Facebook links your shadow profile with your real profile when you finally join. This is how it recommends friends you should add even if you do not upload your contact.
6 Your location
Google is infamous for its insatiable interest in information about your location. However, it has an undeclared competitor, one that we often overlook in issues relating to “location theft”, Facebook.
Facebook knows where you are at every moment. If you feel that is creepy, we should add that it also stores this information on its servers. So it knows everywhere you have been to, long after you have left and probably forgotten you were ever there.
Facebook tracks you using the Facebook app on your phone. The app tracks you every time, even when it is not in use. Facebook offers everyone the option of limiting the app’s tracking feature or even switching it off completely but as others have found out, Facebook still tracks you even if you opt out.
While it will no longer rely on using the location features on your phone, it will resort to using your Wi-Fi, IP address, Bluetooth, browsing habits, places you check in to and other contents you upload to the site to determine your location. Unlike the location feature, you cannot turn this one off.
5 Your pregnancy status
Facebook knows when you are pregnant or likely to become pregnant, that is, if you are not already pregnant. So you should not be surprised when you start seeing ads for baby care products. Facebook allows advertisers to target pregnant women and they will target you if they suspect you are one.
Facebook has refused to release information on how it identifies pregnant women. However, it said it rarely uses data from a lady’s status update to determine if they are pregnant.
This revelation is actually very creepy even though it is supposed to be comforting. A status update is supposed to be the likeliest way to know if a woman is pregnant, isn’t it? This even contradicts what Facebook told an advertiser about how it identifies pregnant women. It said it determines the likelihood of a woman being pregnant based on what they post on Facebook.
Facebook did not explain what it means by “post”. A status update is a post but a post is not necessarily a status update. Ad Age, which investigated the controversy behind Facebook’s ads targeted at pregnant women said Facebook was being “purposefully vague” about revealing how it determines if a woman is pregnant.
4 Your sleep pattern
Facebook knows when you are asleep and awake. If you do not have a problem with that, wait until you hear that it made this data publicly available to everyone. Anyone capable of writing a bit of code to extract this information from Facebook’s Messenger will know your sleep pattern.
Messenger contains features that detects when you are using the app on any of your devices. By writing a code to check the status of everyone on their friend list, a person can determine when their friends are online, offline or online but idle. They can then use this information to determine when they are awake and asleep.
3 Your breakups
Back to relationships, Facebook can predict when you and your partner are about to breakup, even before either of you realizes it. So be rest assured a breakup is underway by the time you start seeing dating site ads on your newsfeed. You either tighten those loose ends or just click on the ads to try your luck with someone else.
Facebook does not predict your breakup based on the pictures you take with your lover or how frequently you communicate. Rather, it determines it based on your mutual friends and your relationship with your partner’s close friends. Facebook considers your relationship healthy if you and your partner have many mutual friends and if you are close to your partner’s close friends.
However, if you do not have many mutual friends and your partner is distant from your close friends, then there is a high probability your relationship is going down south. Facebook knows these sorts of relationships barely last for two months before fizzling out.
2 Your mouse cursor
If you use Facebook on your personal computer, then we should inform you that Facebook tracks your mouse cursor. During US Congress investigations into the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018, Facebook revealed it tracks cursor movements to determine whether the user is a human or bot.
This would have been a very good excuse except that Facebook had revealed the truth a few years earlier, when it said it tracks our mouse cursor movements to determine the ads we clicked on and hover round. In one sentence, Facebook tracks our cursors to know the ads we are interested in.
1 Your lost and forgotten relatives
In 2017, Gizmodo writer, Kashmir Hill found a long lost relative after Facebook suggested he added her as a friend. They had no mutual friend, had different surnames and had not seen in 35 years and yet, Facebook somehow figured out they were related.
We already explained how this “people you may know” feature works in an earlier entry. However, it appears to be more sophisticated than we think.
Facebook does not only depend on your phone contacts and shadow profiles to suggest the people you may know. It also uses your location, facial recognition technology and even buys data from other apps. A psychiatrist once had Facebook recommending her patients to each other.
However, in what qualifies as nothing short of irony, Kashmir Hill was researching and experimenting to decode how the Facebook friend suggestion feature worked at the time Facebook recommended he added Rebecca Porter as a friend.
Ms. Porter was his great aunt. She married his grandfather’s brother a year after he was born and that was the only time they ever met. They had no mutual friends and lived far apart. She lived in Ohio while he lived in Florida.
Hill’s biological grandfather (who was called Porter) abandoned him when he was still a baby and he was later adopted by a man named Hill. This was where he got his surname, Hill. Thirty-five years later, Facebook linked him up with his great aunt.