Most of us look in the mirror every day. Not that we’re narcissists, we just like to get a general idea of of how we appear to others. Sometimes we’re quite pleased with the mug facing back at us; other times we’re deeply disturbed.
But have you ever looked at your digital reflection? Have you pierced the black veil of hardware, revealing your online self as you truly are—an assemblage of data points and unaccepted “cookies”?
One man, Georges Abi-Heila, was brave enough to do just that. Writing on Hackernoon, Mr. Abi-Heila details his own experience viewing his complete trove of Facebook data. What he found, he says, was “creepy as hell.”
Don’t be fooled by the “bring the world closer together” motto: if Facebook’s here, it’s only to make money by selling ads
You Can Look At Your Data?
Yes. Beginning in 2010, Facebook (afterwards followed by Google and Twitter in 2011 and 2012) began allowing users to download a file of everything they’ve ever posted.
The steps to do so can be found here. The author says it typically takes under 10 minutes.
1. Data is Forever
While Abi-Heila knew that Facebook collected everything, he didnt know—or wasn’t prepared for the realization—that they never delete anything. “For the first time in history,” he says in awe, “10 years of consistent human behavior have been meticulously gathered, stored & analyzed.”
2. They Know Your Camera, Too
Abi-Heila also knew that Facebook collected metadata from your photos. But once again he wasn’t prepared for what this really looked like. “I didn’t suspect it was so detailed,” he says. More than simply location and time, the data also includes things like model, maker, orientation, exposure, and more.
3. They’re HIP to Your IP
To his surprise, every single log-in he had ever made was recorded, along with its time, location, IP address, browser and device. “They have enough data points,” he warns, “to determine your everyday life patterns with great accuracy.”
4. They Can See You
“Tagging” is for more than just friends. By identifying someone in a picture, we also give Facebook information on how a person looks from different angles, which it then feeds to an image recognition model.
Unsurprising given its plethora of data, these models are ruthlessly effective: able to “recognize human faces with 98% accuracy,” as well as “identify a person in one picture out of 800 million in less than five seconds.”
5. They’re Selling You Out—But To Whom?
Abi-Heila found a list of all the companies—21, in his case—given access to his contact info. Many were in related industries: the word Playstation appears in 6 of them.
Despite “numerous requests by users throughout the world,” Facebook still refuses to give details on what info it shares with advertisers. Abi-Heila, however, found a list of the info used in audience targeting, an imperfect proxy. It included: email, phone number, first name, last name, country, date of birth, age & gender.
Abi-Heila ends with a warning. He notes that the real danger of Facebook stems not from its ability to expose people’s dirty secrets, but a combination of two factors: its intentions and its means of actions.
And this is where it “gets really frightening.”
For one, as we’ve just seen, Facebook is “hugely powerful,” able to—among other things—predict our future movements and pick us out of a crowd. Second, it’s only “objective” is to “maximise the time spent” on its platform.
He implores us to ignore corporate mottos like “bring[ing] the world closer together,” and instead focus on the hard facts. “If Facebook’s here,” he attests, “it’s only to make money by selling ads.” Creepy.