In light of the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, where a political consultancy in London has been accused of harvesting and applying Facebook users data inappropriately to shape political campaigns in the United States, I decided to find out exactly how much information Facebook holds about me.
I downloaded this via a single click in the settings section of my Facebook account. Find out how in the last paragraph of this article.
In the Photos and Videos sections, I was pleasantly surprised to see photos and videos that I had completely forgotten about. In the Messages section, I was able to view conversations with friends from 11 years ago when I joined Facebook! Some of these conversations took me right back to what my life was like at those points in time. The Timeline section shows all the comments I’ve ever posted and I was able to go back to my first post on the platform, including the date and time it was posted!
I was also able to see my ad history, not only ads I have clicked on Facebook but also on Instagram! Now, I have the Instagram app on my phone and I know the company was acquired by Facebook in 2012, but I didn’t realise that data from my activity on Instagram is being flowed directly into the Facebook app. I was able to see advertisers with my contact info as well.
In the Security section, I was able to view all devices I have used to log in to Facebook and the IP addresses of these devices including date and time stamps.
All these were interesting to me until I came across the Contact Info section where I was able to see that Facebook holds contact information from my mobile phone including people not even on my Facebook friends list! 70% of my phone contact list are known to Facebook, including the contact info for the Indian Takeaway I frequent on days I feel a bit peckish!
From what I was able to gather from a quick Google search, the Facebook app on your phone apparently has access to your phone contacts and you gave this permission away when you downloaded the app. I think you can manage this though and restrict this access by going into your settings.
The good thing about downloading this data is that you are able to see the evidence of the power of Facebook. Every Like, every comment, every photo you’ve posted, adverts you have clicked on and places you’ve been are being meticulously chronicled in great detail and made accessible to you and I am sure, the government and other authorities as well (on demand probably). How much of this data is accessible to corporate interests and political parties is less known. Cambridge Analytica’s parent company (prior to 2014), then known as SCL Elections, has been accused of interfering in the 2007 general elections in Nigeria where it is alleged that the company organised rallies in Nigeria to weaken support for the opposition. There are also allegations of political interference by the same company in Latvia and Trinidad and Tobago elections in 2006 and 2010 respectively.
If you feel there is anything on there you would be uncomfortable being made public (e.g. those old photos you were tagged in or the ones you posted, or even opinions you expressed a long time ago that you no longer hold), it is the time to clean up and check how much consent you are giving apps to access your personal data, in your settings.
The more disturbing aspect is how secure is this data? The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal shows it is not as secure as we would like it to be. I know a lot of people say if you have nothing to hide, then you shouldn’t worry. But I think this is a naive position as you should be concerned about how much information about you is available to a private company who makes billions of dollars trading in that very information. Imagine giving the keys to your house to a private insurance company for example, and saying you have nothing to hide! That would be unthinkable. Facebook is no longer a passive fun app where we post smileys to far-flung friends, it is a very powerful machine hoovering up and digesting every aspect of our lives and making a huge profit from it.
Information about you could be used for positive as well as negative or criminal purposes, protecting it is important. In an age of identity theft, impersonations and blackmail, you ignore this at your peril.
If Facebook holds this much information about us, I wonder what data Google and Apple keep about us all and what they do with it or ‘can’ do with it!
To view your own Facebook data (see screenshots below), go to your settings in your Facebook app (desktop or mobile) and in the General account settings tab, click ‘Download a copy of your Facebook data’. It will take about 10-15 minutes and an email will be sent to you with a link to the downloaded data.