How Facebook Uses Your Data & What You Should Know

Lump Facebook and privacy together in the same sentence and you have cause for a mighty heated discussion. It’s no secret that Facebook takes certain liberties with its terms of use as well as the data its users put on the site. It isn’t a problem for them to run experiments on their users, just to see how the users would react to manipulation of their newsfeed. Face it, Facebook gets the data you give them and they will use it.

If you think about it, how could your Facebook newsfeed be customized to such detail if it was only be based on your profile? How is it that your most favorite pages always feature some posts there, while those you neglect almost never appear? Is it a coincidence that you see an ad for sneakers after browsing through 5-10 sneaker brand websites?

We take a look at how Facebook uses the data we hand over to them, even without knowing.

Info Based On Your Social Media Activity

Although it’s true that the basis of your dossier is provided by your Facebook profile, there are many more sources other than that. The last F8 developer conference revealed three major sources for your news feed input that come from your on-site activity

1. Interaction with your friends – on-site best friends you chat with every day will score top places

2. The type of content you’re more likely to enjoy – if you like and share more videos than photos, more video content will appear in your news feed

3. Activities on a certain post – if there are a lot of likes and comments and tagged photos of your friends, it will be featured at the top

IMAGE: Marsden Associates

To achieve this, Facebook tracks not only your likes, shares and comments (i.e. engagement), but also the time you spend watching or reading a single post. This is why long posts and videos might find better places in your feed than those single-image fun-with-cats posts.

Also, Facebook will try to find out your missing profile info (e.g. residing city, interests, education, workplace) based on your activity and engagement even long after you’d signed up. If most of the events you attend are in Chicago and most of your friends you often interact with are from Chicago, Facebook is surely going to ask you to confirm that you are, too, based in Chicago.

It’s good to know as well that Instagram is also owned by Facebook – so every photo you share and/or view will provide information. Just for fun, should you have missed it, here is a social media experiment to show you how much anyone can find out based on your social media activity:

And still, Facebook info-gathering tools don’t end here.

Info Gathered While You’re Browsing

Before we start, the most important thing everyone ought to understand is that every step they take online is most likely tracked by at least three parties: their internet service provider, the host of the visited site and at least one third-party tracking system, powered most likely by Google or Facebook.

The Usual Suspects: Cookies

Facebook (and most other similar sites) is commonly believed to achieve this tracking and information-gathering via cookies, which is only partially true. As per Wikipedia, a cookie is a small piece of data sent from a website to record the user’s browsing activity (including clicking particular buttons, logging in, or recording which pages were visited by the user as far back as months or years ago).

According to Facebook, they use cookies for authentication, security, localization, analytics and advertising. However, even though it is common to blame everything on cookies, Facebook relies on a different (yet still cookie-based) mechanism: their own login- and tracking-solution.

Facebook Connect

The easiest way for Facebook to know everything about you is its most commonly used Facebook integration feature for websites: Facebook Connect. SimilarTech reports that Facebook Connect is used on 5.5 million websites right now. Stats on leadledger add that around 30% of Fortune 500 and 50% of Internet Retailer 500 sites have Facebook Connect installed; it is also featured on around 25% of the Top 100,000 websites on the Web.

Facebook Connect offers website users a way to login with a Facebook account instead of registering to the website itself via a Single sign-on algorithm. Connect usually also makes it possible to like, share and comment most of the content you find on the web, especially on blogs and content-heavy sites.

IMAGE: LIDTIME

This service is quasi-free; in return, Facebook only collects user data while you’re on that particular site – and they also provide most of this data to those who integrate the feature in their code.

So after you log into your Facebook account among the first things when surfing the web, you stay logged in even after you close your Facebook tab, since you did not log out manually or haven’t made any precautions against it. While browsing and googling and reading your favorite blog, your Facebook account collects and provides information at the same time.

Facebook Advertising

Facebook will use your search interests and preferences to guess your motives for browsing. This information will be stored with your account info and be used later for your news feed design and advertisement positioning.

This way, if you look up and check out drone websites or shops by the dozens, Facebook will assume that you are interested in buying and/or flying drones. Hence Facebook will be serving Facebook ads of those stores featuring the latest and newest offerings of robotic products – even if you aren’t a fan of any drone-related Facebook page.

If you have promoted posts or launched ad campaigns via Facebook then you might know about the target audience setting. One can chose the targets’ age, sex, location, education, hobbies, interests and also filter by pages the audience had liked or groups they had joined.

And there’s the thing called lookalike audiences – people who are likely to be interested in a business because they’re similar to the chosen audience based on site registration, off-Facebook purchases, coupon claims and brand awareness.

What To Do About It

Since now you lnow all this, why not use it to your advantage?

Try searching and googling for stuff you are really interested in; like, visit and spend time on Facebook pages about that hobby; share and comment interesting posts (remember, a share “worth” about 5-15 likes while a comment weighs around 3-5 likes) – and disable your AdBlock extension.

Good luck digging out the good stuff using Facebook’s power drill.

Editor’s note: This is written by Marton Fekete for Hongkiat.com. Marton is a Hungarian site developer recently hooked on WordPress. He is a redesign enthusiast and freelance content writer who likes playing RPGs in his free time.

Now Read:9 Ways To Keep Hackers off Your Facebook Account

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