By Jenny Asencio
What I found when I downloaded my Facebook data
When I first made my Facebook account, I was under the delusion that I’d be using it to keep in contact with friends, post stuff, and play a few games (I believe I made the account to play Farm Town). I had actually resisted Facebook at first because MySpace was still popular and there didn’t seem to be a point in being on both. Even after MySpace closed down, I mostly used Facebook for games and to post pictures.
Over time I also got into “discussions” about politics and other topics. Some of these were very polite. Others resulted in serious arguments and ad hominem attacks, some of which escalated into harassment that somehow did not violate Facebook’s terms of service. Facebook’s value for reaching a lot of people made it a place where political debate happened a lot, whether it was wanted or not. Facebook recognized this influence during the 2016 election and made steps to “protect” us from unwanted information by curtailing its reach. While threats of violence and calls for posters to commit suicide are fine with Facebook’s terms of service, people got banned for posting articles that challenged the status quo and questioned the official narrative.
Of course I knew I was putting a lot of information out there on Facebook every time I posted, and that it was being stored on some hard drive in some supervillain’s lair of a server farm. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine how much of my information Facebook was really recording.
I am really freaked out now. I read this not-very-publicized article from CNN, and followed the instructions contained therein:
“Summers encourages everyone to download their Facebook data, which you can easily do by logging in and clicking on Settings, then on General Account Settings. There, you’ll be able to gain access to a staggering 70 categories of data.”
Last month, a former employee of data firm Cambridge Analytica went public with allegations that tens of millions of…www.cnn.com
The extent of the data Facebook has collected on me is downright invasive. I don’t even use their app on my phone anymore, yet they have a record of every phone call I have ever made, every text I’ve ever sent, not just from Facebook but from my device directly. Worse yet, somewhere along the line I’m sure I gave them permission to do that, although the removal of the Facebook App from my phone should have ended that permission.
I am not surprised they have old direct messages from people I have blocked, but what astounds me is that they have contact information — direct phone numbers — of people that I have had no relationship with on Facebook for one reason or another. To my astonishment, I even found phone numbers that had long been deleted from my phone as I removed this or that toxic person from my life. To see these names and phone numbers flung back at me like an FBI dossier was chilling.
Big Brother is watching, and his name is Mark Zuckerberg. It is absolutely no surprise that Cambridge Analytica was able to manipulate the data to tailor campaign advertising to users. Facebook was literally peeking into our pockets through our cell phones.
What should give us all concern is how much of our information is “backed up” by places like Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Instagram, and even Snapchat or TinyPic, despite the information only being publically available temporarily on those platforms. Now I’d like to know exactly how much there is about me out there, things that I thought were simply between me and the people I was talking to, or me and the people I chose to allow in.
That said, it is inevitable that everything will eventually become transparent everywhere. Even today, our privacy is only an illusion, an invisible wall granted us by the courtesy of others. The reality is that data is already out there and has been for a while. That is not the problem. That is something that is already a thing, something that eventually, even the highest offices and the richest elites will succumb to.
The problem is in how it is being collected and used. I don’t have Facebook on my phone, so I can’t fathom any honest reason why Facebook would be collecting data from a source it has not been granted access to. Simply spying on me using my data isn’t the violation that existing on my phone after being taken off is. They no longer had my permission to be there, and they ignored my agency to say “no.”
They are ignoring yours, too, that ubiquitous “they.” The procedure I followed is a part of Facebook, built right in and able to be done by anyone. So please don’t take my word for it. Follow the instructions in the quote above and see what information Facebook has been collecting on you.
Start demanding the same kind of transparency from the Facebooks and Twitters of the world. Start demanding that you be able to opt out of their information collecting, to be given the choice to slam the door on their intrusiveness. Our data is going to be out there whether we like it or not, but that doesn’t mean it is okay for it to be collected right out of our pockets simply because we have the nerve to be hooked up to wireless. By collecting this data the way they did, Facebook has violated a level of intimacy that can only be compared to rape. Facebook has plenty of positive uses for communication and advertising, but it should not have to come at the expense of human dignity.