Here’s What Facebook Has on Me

The FBI and CIA would be proud. Prompted by the Zuckerberg hearings and an article in the New York Times, in which reporter Brian X. Chen downloaded the information Facebook has on him, I did the same.

Wow.

I visit Facebook two or three times a week. I have very restrictive privacy settings and never—I mean never—click on ads or anything ad related. And yet…

Here is a screenshot of some companies that have my personal information. I have not done online business with ANY of them, despite Facebook’s claim that they are “Advertisers you’re interacted with.” I haven’t even heard of half of them, but they have obviously heard of me.

adv that have my info

The complete list of companies that have my personal information totals 269. Some highlights:

  • Susheela Jayapal for Multnomah County Commission District 2. In Oregon?
  • Judge Michelle Slaughter, 405th District Court & Candidate, TX CCA, Pl. Texas?
  • Oklahomans For Energy Options. I’ve never even been to Oklahoma.
  • Cardi B. Yes, the singer. She was on Saturday Night Live last week, and since I’d never heard of her I Googled her. Thanks Cardi. Maybe we should be friends on Facebook—I mean as long as you’re going to spam me…
  • HolyClothing. I looked them up. Their site says, “Flattering Boho, Gypsy & Renaissance Fashions | Ethically Made S-5X.” Yeah, okay…
  • Dragonglass. On their website they say, “Dragonglass is the world’s first gamified cryptomining experience.” I tried putting “gamified cryptomining experience” into Google Translate, but it could not recognize the language.

Those are all from the first page, by the way. A few others:

  • Americans for Prosperity – Oklahoma
  • Americans for Prosperity – Ohio
  • Americans for Prosperity – Illinois, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, New Hampshire, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, and apparently every other state in the U.S. According to FactCheck.org: Founded by billionaire businessman and conservative/libertarian political activist David Koch, Americans for Prosperity has emerged as one of the most influential conservative issue advocacy groups on the national and state political scene. I had never visited any of their websites until I started writing this blog.

And here is a screenshot of some of the companies that I have visited online, but never mentioned on Facebook. This shows that Facebook mines your computer or device while you’re posting and reading, and records your private, non-Facebook information about what sites you visit when you’re not on Facebook.

adv I visited

Facebook, for a writer, is a necessity. It’s one of the very few ways that writers (who in today’s publishing environment have been forced to become their own marketing and public relations teams—and at the expense of some great writing and writers who are not very good at it or just think it’s wrong, I’m sure, which is fodder for a future post) can stay connected with the public. In other words writers need it as part of their platform.

And it’s true that joining Facebook is free, at least in the sense that you do not pay to sign up. But does this give Facebook the right to invade your computer and then share what they find with companies and people you’ve never heard of? They are clearly not the only entities that do this. The Congressional hearings have helped bring this fact to light. But will Congress act to protect individuals’ privacy, or will they just pontificate?

How can you download your information from Facebook? Go here: https://www.facebook.com/help/131112897028467 Go ahead. Have fun.

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4 thoughts on “Here’s What Facebook Has on Me

  1. stiennon

    Great reporting Joe. Just one note: it’s not that Facebook goes into your device to learn about those other interactions. You carry your Facebook cookies wherever you go and any website can ask for them to make the link to your identity. (Messenger is another story. Keep that off your phone). One tip, if you don’t want that to happen. You can of course delete cookies but that is inconvenient when you want to log back into all the sites you go to. But you can open a separate browser window that has enhanced privacy. In Firefox you pull down the “File” menu and select “Open a new private Window.” This is handy if you want to see the difference between the custom site for you and the generic site. Or if you are shopping for travel deals sometimes you don’t want one site to know you have looked at other sites. Sometimes you do!

  2. Thanks Richard, that’s a great tip. It also explains how all those sites got information. Because they were all listed on Facebook doesn’t necessarily mean that Facebook led them to it. The “Private Window” tip is something I’ll definitely use more in the future.

  3. Yes, Facebook is a pain in the patoot. I signed up once, didn’t read anything except a note from one person, my nephew, and tried to quit the next day, unsuccessfully somehow. I don’t know why it didn’t work, but now every day I get at least one notice from them that I have a kazillion new notifications, and at least one new message and one friend. I never look at it, just delete it from my e-mail. I hate it. I’m glad you have the stomach and knowledge for getting out of it.

  4. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not quitting Facebook yet. It’s too important to a writer’s career. I just want to help people understand that it’s not the simple, benevolent social connection app they want you to think it is. It’s a huge company dedicated almost exclusively to making money (just like most others), and its users are essentially collateral damage in that quest.

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