Do you know how many online accounts you have under your name?
If you’re like most internet users, the number is probably higher than you think. These days, it seems like every online platform wants us to create an account – from social media sites to music and movie streaming services. We regularly hand out quite a bit of personal data without a second thought, but we rarely take the time to learn about how these websites plan to use our information.
In this series we're exploring privacy policies and what you should know about them. First, we’ll take a look at one of the world’s most popular social networks: Facebook. If you’re one of the 1.65 billion monthly active users, Facebook already knows a lot about you. Let’s review some of the things that you should know in return.
What information does Facebook collect, and why?
By its own admission, Facebook collects a lot of your information, beginning the moment you sign up for an account. According to the company’s data policy, it gathers the following:
- The type of content you view and engage with regularly.
- How often you check Facebook and what you typically see while logged in.
- The locations of the photos you post.
- The people and groups you connect with, and how you typically communicate with them.
- Data that your friends provide when they tag you in posts or photos.
- Information about the computers or mobile devices you use to access Facebook, such as operating systems, browser type, locations and time zones.
Why does Facebook collect all that it collects? As a business, the social network’s ultimate goal is to display advertisements that are relevant to your interests, allowing it to maximize revenue. According to Mashable, this means learning as much about your web browsing habits as possible.
In addition, Facebook is constantly seeking to improve through the careful study of usage data. For example, its algorithms are designed to show you the posts created by your closest friends – or, at least, the people with whom you interact the most while using the service.
How can I control what I share with Facebook?
Most users probably don’t give much thought to how much of their data ends up in Facebook’s hands. But if the idea alarms you, don’t worry – there are steps you can take to control this flow of information.
Through Facebook’s Activity Log tool, users can see everything they have posted on Facebook since they first started using it. This is the place to go if you want to control which posts appear publicly on your timeline, or if you want to see a list of searches you’ve made and delete any individual items permanently.
Users can also control how advertisements are fed to them. In the “Ads” section of the settings page, it’s possible to turn off “interest-based ads,” which typically require Facebook to collect information about your interests. In addition, you can decide whether your ad preferences can be used to show you advertisements outside of Facebook.
Let’s face it: Social media is an increasingly important part of many people’s lives. We can’t expect users to completely turn away from popular services like Facebook just because they may be uncomfortable with data collection. But it is crucial for users to think about their privacy while they are online. That’s why Identity Guard exists – to help people monitor their credit files and protect themselves from identity theft that could be caused by personal information falling into the wrong hands.