What personal information does Facebook have about you?

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In the aftermath of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica fiasco, and Mark Zuckerberg’s testimonial before US Congress, people are beginning to question just how much personal information Facebook has about them.

While many are aware of how much their information is harvested, some are shocked to find the masses of data surrounding their online presence. So, how much personal information is really kept about Facebook users… and why?

How does Facebook collate my personal details?

Even if you’re not a heavily active user of Facebook, you may be surprised by the huge amounts of data they can collect about you. Facebook gathers personal information in three different ways:

  • Direct data – This is the basic information you add to your Facebook info when you set up or update your account. Your profile information, such as your name, age, marital status, city of residence, employment and education, is stored.
  • Facebook activity – This includes all of the pages, pictures and statuses you’ve liked, the groups you’ve joined and the links or videos you’ve shared to your newsfeed.
  • External websites – Businesses like Facebook can use cookies and pixels to track your activity on websites outside of their own.

What information does Facebook collect about me?

Quite a few things have been revealed by Facebook after the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Mark Zuckerberg facing Congress. One of the most important announcements was the 98 ‘personal data points’. This is a (very!) long list of topics stored by our favourite social media websites.

The list varies from basic information like age, gender, location and Facebook friends to the not so basic: mothers (divided by “type” e.g. soccer, trendy, etc); how much money users are most likely going to spend on their next car; expats (divided by their country of origin) and, oddly enough, users who are “heavy” buyers of alcohol.

Why does Facebook store my personal information?

The main reason for sites such as these reading and storing your data is simply because of advertising. However, this also improves the user experience as it suggests various things you may like or be interested in – whether this is a product, page, website, news outlet or book etc.

As Facebook remains a free platform, the social network must make its money through other ventures. In 2017, around 98% of Facebook’s global revenue came from advertising. The only way Facebook could make this venture so successful is if the adverts are successful too.

The social network helps advertisements succeed by targeting the right people. This is where your personal information comes in. Your web activity and information help businesses build up your unique advertising profile so ads can be directed to the right people.

You will already be quite aware of this: sponsored posts and adverts in the sidebars are often eerily relevant to your recent searches – whether you searched for a particular item on Facebook or on external sites.

After all, what would be the point in advertising Land Rover Discovery parts to someone who owns a Peugeot 206? Or sponsoring posts from female clothes shops on the newsfeeds of 50-year-old men?

How can I see all of the personal information Facebook has collected about me?

Fortunately, Facebook doesn’t go out of its way to hide the information it has collated. The Facebook app, and subsequently the Messenger app, requires you to accept certain permissions before you can use particular features. Access to your camera and image gallery are essential for sharing pictures to your newsfeed or making a video call, for example.

On top of this, there is a feature for ‘Downloading your info’ on Facebook’s website. To do this, you have to request your archive, complete the security measures and then wait for them to prepare your archive. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be an active Facebook user, you may be surprised at what you find.

Can I delete the data Facebook has stored about me?

This is the trickier side to things. It has become apparent that Facebook doesn’t ever actually delete any of your information, even if you think you’ve cleared something. All of your deleted friends have been recorded, along with every message, picture, even sticker, you’ve sent to someone.

However, there is a way to permanently delete things from your account. If you download your archive, as mentioned previously, you can filter your activity log according to categories like posts, photos and videos, posts or photos you’re tagged in etc. While you’re going through this, you can select “clear” to delete things or delete items individually.

Once you delete something, bear in mind that it can take up to 90 days for it to be cleared from Facebook’s servers.

Whether you opt to delete all of your Facebook information or not, it is still important to find ways to safeguard your information with Facebook security. You can also hinder what Facebook has access to in the future by altering your permissions and settings.

Who else is collecting and storing my information?

While Facebook’s storing of information may be the tip of a very murky iceberg for some, we must remember that this is not the only company storing personal information. Other big companies work in a similar way.

Google and even sites like Tinder are collecting and storing masses of personal information about their users. However, these sites, like Facebook, also enable you to download the information they have stored about you. Google Takeout even shows you your Google advertisement profile, tailored according to your web activity.

While the revelation of the amount of information stored about users may be a shock to people, it is an important lesson in web privacy. You may not fully realise just how much data you are handing over to businesses when you use their online services.

Alyssa Parnwell
Content Marketing Executive
Knapton Wright Ltd.