Facebook has made a name for itself as one of the most popular social media sites today. Headed by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, with over a million Facebook users, almost 50,000 full-time Facebook employees, and countless active Facebook profiles both business and personal, there's no question that the site amasses audiences from every corner of the globe. But with a social media website that has so many active users, it's worth considering the amount of Facebook data that's accessible from the site. Given the size of Facebook, they're able to collect personal information about us in far more ways than we expect, which means they know more than we realize.
Facebook data is primarily gathered by the social media giant from three sources:
- The Facebook website and your account activity
- Apps that you’ve logged into with your account
- Plugins on third-party websites
Each of these gives Facebook different information about us. Although the social media platform doesn’t currently utilize user data for anything except for advertising, it’s still good to know just exactly what information Facebook has. As Facebook grows and their privacy policies change, users' personal information could easily end up being used in ways they never anticipated - or knowingly agreed to.
Facebook data gathered from your account
This sounds self-explanatory, but consider what kind of personal data you have given for your account. When you create a Facebook account, you need to enter your name, phone number, date of birth, and gender. But these are only the base requirements. The social media giant recommends that you enter all sorts of additional information to help people get to know you. This includes your hometown, your educational and work histories, and relationship status. It even gives you the option to submit what kinds of music and television you enjoy.
If you are comfortable sharing this with the Internet, then this isn’t an issue. However, know that once you put this information on your account, they will keep this information for their own records even if you delete it from your profile publicly.
Facebook data gathered from apps using your account credentials
When you create user profiles on new apps or websites, typically you need to create new login credentials. But in recent years, these apps and websites have begun to offer alternate logins to streamline the login process: instead of creating individual accounts, you can “sign in with Google” or “sign in with Facebook.” If you have ever clicked “sign in with Facebook” and used your login credentials to join a new app or website, Facebook can track your activity with that app and keep it in their own database. This is because your account with these apps is linked to your Facebook account.
Most people opt for the convenience of a one-click sign-in without considering what it really means. These quick sign-ins gives the social media site even more information about you, your preferences, and your Internet habits. If you want to limit the amount of information Facebook has, but don't want to give up the convenience of one-click sign-ins, consider trying a password manager. These conveniently provide and save passwords for accounts, which means you only have to remember one master password. It's more or less the same as choosing a Google or Facebook login, but far more secure. Each account actually has its own login credentials, which will save you from losing more private data should your Facebook account ever be hacked.
Facebook data gathered via third-party websites and Facebook-owned groups
Have you ever reached the end of an article online and seen the option to give it a “thumbs up” or leave a comment? These are also linked to your Facebook account. When you like an article, that information goes straight to the social media site. It allows them to better understand the kinds of things you like, agree with, and want to hear more about. This information is not as explicit as putting your spouse’s name on your profile, but it still gives them greater insight as to who you are.
Furthermore, Facebook has grown from a social media app to a powerful parent company. The company, branded under the new name Meta, is now the owner of Instagram and WhatsApp. Any information you put into these accounts also goes directly back to them. Whether you post an image on Facebook or Instagram, Meta has access to it in the same user database.
Facebook also accesses information through Messenger, which is the site’s messaging app. The conversations you have through that app can be read, monitored, and recorded by Facebook. If you give access to your contacts through Messenger, they can also go through your phone records. These are seriously invasive measures; consider how much you really need to use Messenger rather than a text message.
Facebook data breaches
Facebook has control over a lot of your private information. But what happens when Facebook loses control of their own database? As reported by the New York Times, in 2018, Facebook experienced its biggest data breach on record, exposing the information of nearly 50 million users. Hackers attacked Facebook's computer network and system code to get access to the accounts. Once in, because Facebook accounts are linked as we discussed above, hackers were able to access users' Instagram accounts, Spotify accounts, and more.
Data breaches, unfortunately, aren't uncommon. They can happen to any company, no matter how tight the security seems. This is the reason why it's important to be aware of the information that you provide to any external source, whether it be a social media company, a website, or even a company or business. Once you give information, it's out of your control. The best way to stay protected is to limit the personal data that you give out.
What if you don’t have an account?
Even if you don’t have a Facebook account, Facebook knows about you. Any information another user uploads to the site – such as their contacts – is stored for future use. If you have friends that use Facebook, chances are that they have at least some of your basic information. Again, if your friend uses Messenger and has given Facebook permission to access their contacts, your phone number, name, and, potentially, your address can all be in Facebook's database.
How Facebook information is used
Right now, the good news is that Facebook only uses your information for advertising purposes. The more they know about you, the more they can tailor your ad content, making the advertisements more effective overall. However, it’s a good idea to be aware of any of your information that’s present on the Internet, whether it’s on Facebook or another site and set your Facebook privacy settings accordingly.