Busting the Myths About Facebook's Data Usage

Busting the Myths About Facebook's Data Use

“Beware the Ides of March” – Roman politician and military general, Julius Ceaser, was hence warned by a soothsayer back in ancient Rome. In literature and history, the Ides of March (March 15) is associated with ill fate as Ceaser was assassinated on the same day. A few centuries later, a day very close to the Ides of March spelled doom for another popular hero. And this time too, there were warnings issued for this possible doomsday for Mark Zuckerburg, Cofounder, Chairman, and CEO of Facebook Inc. On March 17, 2018, former Cambridge Analytica employee, Christopher Wylie, turned whistleblower for Facebook’s alleged involvement in making personal data available to Cambridge Analytica for running targeted political campaigns in the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential Elections. The past one month has been a bumpy ride for Facebook over allegations of data misuse of around 87 million Facebook users. Facebook is all over the news and for all the wrong reasons. Our own Facebook newsfeeds are bombarded with articles on the Facebook data scandal and how users’ data have been misused for targeted ads.

From Connecting People to Targeting People

At a recent appearance before the US Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committee members, Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, owned up to the allegations pertaining to the Facebook data scandal. He acknowledged that Facebook was still on the learning curve and is bouncing back pragmatically to address the challenges. So is it time to pull the plug on our all-time favorite social media platform? For a platform that has been the chosen medium for close to 2 billion users around the globe to connect with friends and track their long lost pals, what could have possibly gone wrong? After all, it all started off with a simple social media platform to connect, re-connect, like, comment and share. Then, how did Facebook end up stirring the hornet’s nest amidst its simple motive of connecting people? How did the Facebook data scandal end up becoming one of the most controversial scandals of the current era? How did data protection end up becoming such a knotty affair for Facebook? The answer lies in Facebook ads.

Busting the Misconceptions and Myths about Facebook’s Data Use

We never really realized the insidious progress that Facebook ads made in dominating our dashboards and newsfeeds, right? Facebook ads enable marketers to reach out a highly targeted audience based on demographics, interests, and behaviors; all of which is obtained from information provided and shared by Facebook users. And thanks to Facebook’s intelligently crafted algorithms, the ads manage to reach the right set of audience that actually ends up clicking on them and visiting the parent site! We have ourselves done that innumerable times. But can Facebook ads be trusted? Has Facebook also been tracking phone calls and messages for user profiling? What privacy policies does Facebook have for data protection? Here’s all that you need to know to bust the misconceptions and myths about Facebook’s data use.

1. “Refrain from providing personal details”

Yes. And why should you? Although it’s not just Facebook but even the supermarket you visit every week that demands your personal details such as phone number or email ID before billing. And for the record, you stand the chances of having your personal information fall prey to data misuse each time you provide your phone number or email ID for any offline or online purchase. When it comes to Facebook ads, tread cautiously. Some ads can lead to a look-alike or farcical landing page that coerces users to enter their details (personal and financial) in return for an attractive offer. Unfortunately, gullible users realize that the offer is nothing but a false promise only once the damage is already done!

2. “Facebook retains video content that you recorded but never chose to post”

Although you wouldn’t want to hear this, that’s true! Videos that are taken using the Facebook camera, once deleted, are retained and stored on Facebook’s servers. So, in case you ever recorded a video using the Facebook camera and then deleted it, chances are there that the videos are still available on Facebook. Although Facebook has claimed to not have done this intentionally and has attributed this to bugs, one may wonder what use a deleted video content would be to Facebook. Well, for starters, Facebook could use its advanced video object recognition tools to extract information for enhanced data use in the near future. Facebook does claim to be in the process of deleting these videos from their servers, but amidst the present allegations against Facebook’s data protection policies, trusting such claims have become harder!

3. “Facebook tracks calls and SMS data available on Android phones”

Heart beating fast? Well, yes, it’s true! Facebook has recently confirmed that Facebook has records of call and text history for improving the user’s connections and experience.

Facebook has accepted in an official statement that, “Call and text history logging is part of an opt-in feature for people using Messenger or Facebook Lite on Android. This helps you find and stay connected with the people you care about and provides you with a better experience on Facebook. People have to expressly agree to use this feature. This feature does not collect the content of your calls or text messages. Your information is securely stored and we do not sell this information to third parties.”

Although, they maintain that it is possible only when the user explicitly allows Facebook to access the records. Nevertheless, the idea of a social media platform having records of calls and messages made outside of their platform indeed stokes up our fear of data misuse. And all for improving the user experience. Like, really? Aren’t there better ways of doing that? Technology experts consider this method used by Facebook as a means to achieve better user profiling for targeted ads than for enhancing user experience!

4. “Facebook is eavesdropping on your private conversations”

Well yes, it is possible theoretically but may not be feasible practically! There have been many allegations in the past about Facebook eavesdropping on your private conversations through your phone’s inner microphone. Though Facebook has always denied such assertions, there are a good number of people who are convinced that their calls are being recorded. However, as we said, don’t get all worked up yet since this is not a very feasible method to profile people. This is because recording calls of its over billion user base would involve a lot of data for Facebook to consume. An estimate reveals it to be around 20 petabytes each day, only in the US! The other issue is accuracy. Even though speech to text tools have been helpful in decoding speech with almost flawless accuracy, the reliability of such data would still be questionable unless Facebook actually has access to the voice clips of every single user as a training model.

5. “Your private messages are scanned by Facebook”

Well, not in all cases but only when conversations are flagged. Facebook admits that they do scan private messages when they are flagged in order to avoid misuse. In an interview with Bloomberg, Facebook explained that when posts or messages are reported, the company’s “community operations team” reviews the posts/messages for violation of standards. It says that sometimes automated tools are also used for this purpose. For example, a link shared on Messenger may be scanned for viruses or malware. Similarly, a photo when shared may be reviewed for content in order to ensure that it complies with their “community standards”. Although, Facebook does maintain that the data obtained from the scanned messages are not used for advertising. Keeping our fingers crossed about it!

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