You might have missed the news this year that Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to harvest the data of millions of users. Worse still, it since broke that the data collected allowed the organisation to psychologically profile people, and create targeted ads that were used to influence political elections.
This led to a wider discussion around the transparency of these big tech companies, and the ad networks that plug into them.
To help alleviate some of those concerns (and to comply with GDPR in Europe) FB have created dashboards to help you better see the data you have given to FB, including pages you’ve liked, and examples of ad’s you might be expected to see as a result of that data.
If you’re on Facebook, navigate to settings, and then the right-hand column is ‘Your Facebook Information’. It will take you to a screen that looks like this.
From here you are able to view all of the information you have given Facebook by clicking the ‘Access Your Information’ link.
Scroll down though and you will find ‘Information about you’, which is where all the aggregate information gathered about you is stored. This includes your location data, your call and SMS logs if you have allowed Facebook Messenger on your phone to sync them, and your search history. Advertisers you’ve interacted with included a list of advertisers who have uploaded your contact details. This could be from a data list they have purchased from somewhere else, or perhaps you signed up to their service (a loyalty card, for example) and they are then using that data to specifically target you on the platform.
None of this was available to users before Cambridge Analytica, and it’s only because of scandal and law change that it is available to you now.
Danielle decided that the best way to circumvent this increasingly targeted ad display technology is to obfuscate her real interests. She creates a large digital footprint by liking lots of pages, even if they have no relevance to her actual life. For example, she likes the Chicago Bulls on Facebook, but doesn’t care about them in real life at all.
One of the most interesting aspects of the talk was Firefox multi-account containers, which silo’s off data and keeps sessions separated. By creating a container for Facebook, Danielle’s Facebook account isn’t following her around the web. It exists in it’s own sandbox, and when she opens another tab she isn’t logged in, meaning she is free to browse without the same level of personalised data gathering.
I asked Danielle whether she felt there was a moral or ethical responsibility to provide this data to companies who are providing a free service. She admitted that the internet can be better when it’s more personalised, and as a business owner she even uses Facebook advertising. Ultimately, however, she doesn’t feel obligated to give back. “Other people can carry that burden”
Another attendee asked her what the biggest harm was from Facebook’s data gathering practices. Her response was far less blase.
“Literally the fate of the free world”
This talk was based off of her medium post, which you can find here.