How much does Facebook know about you?

More than you have possibly forgotten in the last half a decade.

 |  6-minute read |   27-03-2018
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Data is the new oil. The only difference is that it is not just powerful countries waging war on smaller nations over this prime resource. It is large corporations waging a covert war on everyone in the world; a war no one knew was taking place until it was too late. With the unfolding of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica controversy, the relevant question one has to ask is not whether Facebook should be deleted, rather just how much does the US-based social media giant already know about us?

The bleak and blunt answer to that, as put forth by TechCrunch senior writer Romain Dillet, is: “Facebook knows literally everything about you.” It’s not click-bait. It’s not a wild claim. It’s not even paranoid ramblings one would associate with persons donning tinfoil hats. No. It is the sad reality.

Over the course of time, thanks to the poor ethics of Facebook and the negligence-to-the-point-of-complicity of users, the platform has amassed more data about you than you thought was possible.

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But what exactly do they know? As Dillet points out, Facebook’s terms and conditions are “a giant lie” — purposely lengthy and tedious, and decidedly vague, meant to discourage one from reading too much into what the real cost of this “free” website is. The best way, thus, is to download your Facebook data. Last week, a Facebook user from New Zeeland by the name of Dylan McKay, discovered to the collective horror of those who care about data privacy that not only does Facebook make a note of everything you have done on the social platform till date, it also takes note of so much more that it has no business knowing about.

For example: McKay found that Facebook has a record of all the phone calls — not Facebook messenger calls — he had made to his partner's mother. As reported by Ars Technica, McKay had installed Messenger in 2015, but only allowed the app the permissions that were required for installation. He claims to have removed and reinistalled the app several times over the course of the next few years, and that he never explicitly gave the app permission to read his SMS records and call history.

It does not end there.

Another Twitter user, Mat Johnson, tweeted: “Oh wow, my deleted Facebook Zip file contains info on every single phone cell phone call and text I made for about a year — cool totally not creepy.”

More people have since downloaded their files and discovered to their horror that these are not isolated incidents.

Facebook also had metadata for his SMSes. Anyone who uses the Facebook Messenger app knows how often the application makes an aggressive attempt to become the default SMS app on the Android device. Facebook may like to claim that the "most important part of apps and services that help you make connections is to make it easy to find the people you want to connect with. So, the first time you sign in on your phone to a messaging or social app, it's a widely used practice to begin by uploading your phone contacts," but that hardly excuses harvesting data on such a massive scale: not just phone numbers of contacts, but also phone calls, SMS messages, date, time and length of phone calls.

Add to that Facebook has not yet made any mention of why they need such private information.

Another Twitter user pointed out the sheer vastness of the data collected by Facebook — at least the data Facebook wants you to know it may have collected. Dylan Curran noted that his Facebook data consisted of “every message you've ever sent or been sent, every file you've ever sent or been sent, all the contacts in your phone, and all the audio messages you've ever sent or been sent.”

And if it is not Facebook — there are some who have over the years refused to succumb to peer pressure and become part of the social media website — there are others who are all too eager to collect your data. Google is perhaps the most insidious of them all, for life in the age of internet, smartphones and the digital realm, Google is ubiquitous.

Another thing that needs to be explicitly pointed out is that in all the cases of Facebook collecting phone call and SMS metadata, it has been only from Android phones; Google has some responsibility here.

Facebook knows more about you than you have possibly forgotten in the last half a decade. And at this point, there really isn’t much you can do about that.

Also read: Why Facebook deserves to be deleted over Cambridge Analytica scandal

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