We all know that Facebook has access to more personal data than our spouses, friends or parents may ever know. The recent scandal involving Facebook and political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which has allegedly illegally harvested data from over 50 million Facebook users in 2014 and used this to influence elections in several countries, has raised the important question – how safe is my personal data on Facebook?
Most Indian users may have found the data breach irrelevant to their own lives, but what if you could access all of the data that Facebook has collected about you over the years? What if you could know the names of all the advertisers that may have access to your personal data, thanks to Facebook?
Although Facebook does allow a user to access the names of the advertisers, the worrisome fact is that the Social Networking giant does not clearly mention what specific data of the person is being shared with the advertisers. Despite numerous requests by activists and organisations, the company’s response has been evasive. In an email sent on April 6, 2017, Facebook responds to the question “Which contact info does each advertiser have? (which email, which phone number, etc), posed by an activist. The social media giant states, “Advertisers do not give Facebook any users' contact details. We only get such details in hashed form and they are, in any event, deleted within 48 hours. We are therefore not able to confirm what contact information an advertiser has for a particular user.”
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data breach, we tell you how to access the names of all the advertisers, who have access to your data - most probably without your knowledge.
So how exactly can a user obtain the list of advertisers to whom Facebook has allegedly given access to your data?
It is a simple process.
- Go to your Facebook profile, then click on the down arrow next to the Quick Help icon on the top right hand corner of the page
- In the drop-down menu, click on Settings.
- Then click on ‘Download a copy of your Facebook data’
After a few minutes, Facebook will send a link to your email with all of the data in a zip file that Facebook has stored ever since you began using the site. Depending on how much of a social media user you are, the file size can vary.
In the HTML folder of the zip file, you can access all of the advertisers that Facebook has possibly given your data to by clicking on the html page titled ‘ads’.
The names are strategically hidden at the end of the page under the title ‘Advertisers with your contact info’. Here’s a screenshot of the advertisers to whom my personal data has in all likelihood been given to.
The same HTML file begins with ‘Ads Topics’ – which are essentially the keywords that are used to cater ads to your Facebook page. Or in Facebook’s words, “A list of topics that you may be targeted against based on your stated likes, interests and other data you put in your Timeline.”
The next header is ‘Ads History’ – which is basically every single ad that you have ever clicked on.
However, the ads page is just the tip of the iceberg. There is an extensive list of details of every login session, along with the IP addresses.
Ever wondered why the Facebook app always forces you to download its messenger, although it can access the messages perfectly through a mobile browser?
Now go back to your HTML folder and click on contact_info. This will give you scores of names, contact numbers and emails of family members, friends or stranger you may have contacted via email or saved on your mobile phone. In my case, while I had deleted Facebook Messenger from my mobile phone a few months ago, Facebook still has a large chunk of my phone book, with names and contact details.
Apart from your contacts, ad information, login sessions, here are the other details that Facebook possesses about you.
-Every single messaging thread, even the ones you have deleted and from the people you have blocked.
- Every public event you have either declined or accepted
- Every single like, new friend made, post commented on and pages followed, down to the minute you accessed the same.
- A list of people whom you unfriended, blocked, along with a list of friends you rejected and accepted, down to the date at which you became friends.
- Every poke ever exchanged, given or received.
-low res files of every photo, video ever posted.
Here’s a full list of what information about you is available to Facebook.
Along with a host of other information.
With Facebook knowing so much about our personal lives, the real question to ask is, are you ok with a social media organisation having so much data about you? Are you comfortable with non-specified information being shared with advertisers? An even worrisome prospect to think about after the Cambridge Analytica incident is - what would you stand to lose if some of this information about you is to fall into the wrong hands?