If you’ve read a news website, turned on the TV or not been under a rock over the past few weeks, then there is a good chance you’ve heard of a guy named Edward Snowden. He’s the US analyst who is currently stuck in a Russian airport looking for asylum because he exposed that – surprise, surprise – the US government/NSA had been spying on pretty much everyone.
This case has helped bring to the surface a vocal part of the internet that is – rightly so – pushing and promoting this issue as much as possible in an attempt to let people know: ‘Hey, these guys are getting information on you without you knowing!’
It’s a pretty shitty thing no doubt, but it baffles me that this comes as such a surprise to many. Especially the more tech aware people that frequent sites like Reddit. Services like PRISM, the NSA, US Government, any government or any one at all actually doesn’t need to look very hard to get more information about you than has been publicly available ever before.
In fact, I’m willing to bet an extremely large majority of people who are outraged by this data capturing and spying revelation have a Facebook account; one of the most in-depth personal information gathering services ever known to mankind.
So I thought I’d do a little digging and put together a list of just some of the information over 1 billion Facebook users are providing willingly every single day.
The standard stuff you provide them…
Lots there huh.
As a Facebook user, you’ve got to be willing to provide data about some of the most specific and personal elements of who you are to a public company with investors, shareholders and government ties.
What’s even crazier is that a large portion of people on Facebook have public profiles, which means anyone can find this information with a simple Google search.
And that’s just the standard stuff. Let’s look a little bit deeper.
But wait, there’s more…
Pretty much your entire online life is being handed over here.
It’s like the biggest customer survey ever!
And you know this information is for sale too right? I’m not talking about to the shady deals to the highest bidder in some corporate Facebook office either (although… ). Selling your data is the public facing, completely non-secretive business model of Facebook.
But imagine what else could be done with this amount of intricate data?
Imagine how efficient McCarthyism in the 50’s would’ve been with data like this. Or perhaps a government looking to identify someone with a certain belief or a group who is outspoken about certain topics. Now there are over 1 billion in-depth records of opinions, details and conversations dating back to 2005 that people have filled in themselves! Scary huh.
But there is so much data, how can anyone sort through all that information?
I’d like to introduce you to Graph Search.
It’s been a Beta release for a few months now, with very few people having it enabled yet. It’s expected to role out to all Facebook users very soon.
Graph Search is Facebook’s way of allowing you to sort through all of this information (called the Open Graph). Similar to Google’s Knowledge Graph, Facebook is trying to make search more conversational.
Rather than going through all of your photos to find that picture of you and your mate from 2010, Graph Search lets you search by that exact phrase.
EG: Photos of me and Steve from 2010
Select the option you want and everything will appear as you’ve requested.
Pretty cool huh.
Well, let’s turn up the creepiness factor a little bit. People can now search outside of their friend list for specific personal factors. Now, something like this is possible:
What if I wanted to find information that probably shouldn’t been openly available to anyone with a Facebook account – something like personal details of our national military personal. Surely I wouldn’t be able to find stuff like that. Right?
Below is a search for ‘People in the Australian Army’
Woah! So Facebook will now let anyone in the world find a list of over 1000 individuals in our nation’s military, including their full name, photos, location, age, interests, friend’s & family, relationships and more. Wow, I sure hope nobody lets China know about this…
This one feature on Facebook makes the entire plot line of the Mission Impossible movie series redundant. No need to steal military name lists on a wire from a roof when you can now do it while playing Farmville.
I ran a similar test for Police in my state. (just <100 results)
as well as the Australian Navy (over 1000 results)
and also tried some searches outside of the country – Chicago Police Dept
Isn’t exposure of information like this a massive security issue?
I was able to access this information from a standard Facebook account with standard functionality. Anyone can. I find that to be pretty alarming, yet why this doesn’t seem to be a big deal, I have no idea…
So, how you can find out (almost) everything Facebook has on you
It’s actually pretty easy to get all of your data from Facebook. The hard part though, is finding out what the hell they are doing with it all.
I downloaded all of my data while putting together this article – a 42MB Zip file containing almost everything I’ve ever done on the platform since 2007.
To download your own Facebook data:
- Go to the settings icon of your Facebook account
- In the general section of you account settings, there is an option to ‘download a copy of your Facebook data’
- Hit the Download Archive option and enter your login details
- You will receive an email shortly after containing a link to a ZIP file of everything – photos, info, video etc.
- Double click the index.html file.
You end up with flat files of your Facebook Timeline and profile settings. Have a look through; there is some pretty interesting stuff in there.
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There are a million articles online about how Facebook has murdered privacy, or how Google is capturing everything – almost all of them claiming these businesses are trampling on our privacy. But, we gave it to them. They provided us the tool to do it and we did – very few questions asked.
It’s getting more and more difficult to keep our online (and offline) activities private, but it’s the general public’s apathy towards stuff like this is as much to blame, if not more, than the corporate behemoths who use the data.
All of the info provided in the bullet points above exist because we gave it to them.
New features that are rolled out on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google etc. are all portrayed as helping us connect better with each other, but in reality they exist to help us connect better with the platforms.
Remember kids: If you’re not paying for a product, then you probably are the product.
This article isn’t suggesting to stop using platforms like Facebook, but be aware of what you are really handing over in order to play Farmville, ‘Like’ that businesses fan page or follow Bon Jovi’s tweets. It’s actually a lot more expensive than the FREE price tag on the box.