Megan Borovicka forgot all about her Facebook account after 2013, reports the Washington Post. “But Facebook never forgot about her.”
The 42-year-old Oakland, California, lawyer never picked any “friends,” posted any status updates, liked any photos or even opened the Facebook app on her phone. Yet over the last decade, Facebook has used an invisible data vacuum to suction up very specific details about her life — from her brand of underwear to where she received her paycheck… It isn’t just the Facebook app that’s gobbling up your information. Facebook is so big, it has convinced millions of other businesses, apps and websites to also snoop on its behalf. Even when you’re not actively using Facebook. Even when you’re not online. Even, perhaps, if you’ve never had a Facebook account.
Here’s how it works: Facebook provides its business partners tracking software they embed in apps, websites and loyalty programs. Any business or group that needs to do digital advertising has little choice but to feed your activities into Facebook’s vacuum: your grocer, politicians and, yes, even the paywall page for this newspaper’s website. Behind the scenes, Facebook takes in this data and tries to match it up to your account. It sits under your name in a part of your profile your friends can’t see, but Facebook uses to shape your experience online. Among the 100 most popular smartphone apps, you can find Facebook software in 61 of them, app research firm Sensor Tower told me. Facebook also has trackers in about 25 percent of websites, according to privacy software maker Ghostery…
Facebook got a notice when I opened Hulu to watch TV. Facebook knew when I went shopping for paint, a rocking chair and fancy beans. Facebook learned I read the websites What To Expect, Lullaby Trust and Happiest Baby. Over two weeks, Facebook tracked me on at least 95 different apps, websites and businesses, and those are just the ones I know about. It was as if Facebook had hired a private eye to prepare a dossier about my life. Why does Facebook think that’s okay? The company emailed me answers about how its tracking technology works, but declined my requests to interview its chief privacy officer or other executives about its alleged monopoly….
Who in their right mind thought they were signing up for this much surveillance back when they first joined Facebook?
The article points out that in 2014 Facebook began allowing its advertisers to target users based on websites they’d visited…and now also gathers more data about users from other companies. And “While many companies were using browser cookies, which could be easily cleared or blocked, Facebook tied what it learned to real identities — the names on our Facebook profiles.” And beyond that, companies “can report other identifying information to Facebook like your email to help it figure out who you are… If you’ve never had a Facebook account at all? It may still be watching.”
It’s a lucrative business, the Post points out. “In 2013, the average American’s data was worth about $19 per year in advertising sales to Facebook, according to its financial statements. In 2020, your data was worth $164 per year.”
What does Facebook know about your off-Facebook activity? You can find out at this URL.
If you just want to stop them from giving this information to advertisers, the right side of that page has an option to “Clear History — Disconnect off-Facebook activity history from your account.” But you then have to also click “More Options” and then “Manage Future Activity” to also stop them from later matching up more of your off-Facebook activity to your profile for advertisers.
If you try to select it, Facebook warns what you’ll be missing — that “Keeping your future off-Facebook activity saved with your account allows us to personalize your experience.” And proceeding anyways then generates a popup reminding you that “We’ll still receive activity from the businesses and organizations you visit. It may be used for measurement purposes and to make improvements to our ads systems, but it will be disconnected from your account.”
And apparently your activity on Oculus isn’t covered, and will still remain connected to your Facebook account.