As the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal unfolds, Nicola Adam asks – should we be deleting Facebook? Or is too late?
On Friday October 4. 2013, at 8.14pm I began a message-based conversation with four friends to organise a restaurant and wine night out.
I’d forgotten all about it. They’d forgotten all about it.
But Facebook has very much remembered.
Every single word in fact.
Not just that, they learned I have a preference for Prosecco, my friend prefers red wine, another is looking forward to a big juicy steak and another is sick of work.
I replied to that with an angry face emoji.
Also recorded, all of their individual contact information, their avatars and every piece of information shared including the restaurant we frequented.
And this is just a tiny fraction of the information held in the little zip file that has arrived on my desktop.
It looks small but contained in here is every detail of my life and interactions as stored by Facebook.I thought I knew what I was expecting to see.
As a journalist and human being who uses Facebook every single day for my life and my work, I was under no illusions that they knew an awful lot about me.
But I’ve tried to be discreet. I don’t share my date of birth on there, my romantic relationships, or every single thing I have for dinner.
But despite being a journalist who works in information for a living - it’s clear that I’ve been very naive.
Facebook is a mighty beast - we don’t just use it in isolation - it connects all our accounts and technology and lives.
We use it to log in to other accounts. We shop directly from Facebook. They own Instagram. We use it on our phone.
Every little bit of that information is stored - even that not directly on Facebook but just present on the same device.
And then there’s our personal relationships.
Every Messenger conversation, every group we join, every ad we linger over, every political preference. Every opinion. Every friend. Every ex-friend. Every like. Every emoji.
Facebook builds a picture of us so detailed they know us better than they know ourselves.
But if that information gets out - what then?
Facebook’s collection of data has come under increased scrutiny after information on millions of users was leaked by a third party.
The hashtag #DeleteFacebook has trended online and many users have chosen, like me, to download copies of their Facebook data to better understand what information the social network has collected about them.
These files, which Facebook enables users to download freely, confirm the company has a wide range of information available on people, beyond the obvious content that is visible on someone’s profile.
So what do they have on me?
It is alarming straight away. Not just because they know my own preferences to a tee.
I knew they targeted advertising and curated my feed to suit my taste. I see the Ted Baker ads and the constant advertising for handbags and holidays in Greece.
Their ever-changing ‘algorithms’ are the bane of our lives in local news. If they decide something is not important to you they just don’t show youit - and that includes our local news latest.
But I didn’t know they had:
• Every single phone number in my contact book. Not called via on Facebook. Or Messenger. Just called.
• Every SMS message I have ever sent. Unless I deleted it.
• Every friend I have ever had or non-friend I have interacted with.
• The names and contact information, including phone numbers and email addresses, of anyone saved to a device on which I’ve used Facebook. All of them.
• Every picture or video I’ve ever taken, or liked.
Think about this. This is personal information, and if leaked, invaluable to third parties, political parties, advertisers and criminals.
Our Facebook feed is already tickling our egos and reinforcing our views and prejudices, so imagine that in every single thing we do.
Big Brother is not just watching us, he’s part of us.
What’s more, it all appears completely legal - and Facebook say they had had our permission to collect all along.
The social network has already responded to reports on the issue, asserting that this collection is not done without first gaining user permission.
Facebook said the measure is an opt-in feature for the Messenger for Android app and the streamlined version of the site - Facebook Lite - and was designed to help better connect users.
“You may have seen some recent reports that Facebook has been logging people’s call and SMS (text) history without their permission. This is not the case,” the company said.
“People have to expressly agree to use this feature. If, at any time, they no longer wish to use this feature they can turn it off in settings.”
“We never sell this data, and this feature does not collect the content of your text messages or calls.”
As well as the list of friends a user has on their Facebook account, the names and contact information - such as phone numbers and email addresses - of anyone saved to a device on which you use Facebook also appear as part of the data.Again, though, this is an optional feature. Facebook asks users first if it can access their contacts list as a way of finding and suggesting connections on the social network.
The process is also common across many social media and other apps, usually occurring shortly after first joining a service.
But it does means some people without a Facebook account could see their phone number become part of the platform’s data archive, should any of their friends or family be on the site.
I don’t know about you but I certainly don’t remember agreeing to anything.
But then I don’t remember my ex-boyfriend’s phone number, email address and preference for outdoor sports.