Facebook: The Dark Side

by Paul Rubell

Social media, search engines, mobile apps and games – all of these ask for, collect, maintain, and in some instances re-distribute personal information about their users. Many of them systematically and purposely collect confidential information belonging to every person who uses their web platforms.

Facebook confirmed its dark side when it changed the name of its “privacy policy” to a “data collection policy”.  While its honesty is to be commended, you should step back and consider why and how Facebook is using and misusing your most secret and identifiable information.  When you post pictures on Facebook’s wall or update your timeline or profile, Facebook’s privacy controls allow you to dial restrictions as to whom can see pictures of you with your friends (thereby identifying who your friends are), your musical, political and social interests, where you live, your date of birth, and everything else that you have elected to upload to 1.11 billion users.  Keep in mind that Facebook itself has access to all of your information, whether restricted to other users or not. Facebook “likes” you, whether you “like” it back or not. Facebook knows everything that you tell it.

Facebook also knows a great deal about you that you have not disclosed. Every time you visit a Facebook webpage, the social media giant identifies and stores your location, the computer or mobile device you are using, the software running on your device, the websites you have visited before going to the Facebook page, and the websites that you visit after you leave.

A word of caution about websites containing that famous blue Facebook “F” icon that allows you to click and “like” the page:

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What is seldom known is that the “like” button is actually located Facebook’s computer servers, not on the website which you are visiting.  As a result, as soon as you land on a webpage containing the blue Facebook “F” button, the Facebook company immediately and automatically garners a tremendous quantity of information about you.  Even without clicking the “F”; even before you “like” the webpage; merely by landing on that third party website, you have simultaneously landed on Facebook’s computer servers, even if you are not a registered Facebook user.  Not only does Facebook recognize your identity & your location; Facebook also has access to everything that you do on that third-party website. Purchase a product on a Facebook-enabled page? The social media company knows about it instantly.  Request additional information from that third-party website? Facebook knows precisely what you have asked.

Facebook “scrapes” every webpage that contains the “Like” button. Quoting from Facebook’s Developer Page:

“Facebook needs to scrape your page to know how to display it [the Like icon] around the site. Facebook scrapes your page every 24 hours to ensure the properties are up to date. The page is also scraped when an admin for the Open Graph page clicks the Like button and when the URL is entered into the Facebook URL Debugger. Facebook observes cache headers on your URLs – it will look at “Expires” and “Cache-Control” in order of preference. However, even if you specify a longer time, Facebook will scrape your page every 24 hours.”

What’s more, if you enjoy Facebook apps, you may be surprised to know that Facebook authorizes access to customer information to the app providers. Even though Facebook itself has imposed some restrictions on its internal use of your information, Facebook has no control over the third-party app developers.  Although some of these companies limit the unauthorized disclosure of your information, are you ready to release your personal information to unscrupulous companies which provide a game or service that you enjoy?

In the 20th century, to avoid the glare of public scrutiny, you would have taken care not to parade through Times Square, holding a banner containing your most private information. 

In contrast, today, all you need to do is use Facebook, Twitter, or Google, and your most precious secrets may be revealed to the world – and will be revealed to the hidden servers located in Menlo Park, San Francisco, and Mountain View.

What do you think about this?

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