What Does Facebook Know About You

, Another rant from , 31 Comments

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.


(parody) via BoingBoing.com

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…

  • Name
  • City of birth
  • City of residence
  • Phone
  • Email
  • Current employment
  • Previous employment
  • Relationship
  • Anniversary
  • Previous relationships
  • Previous names (aliases)
  • Screen names
  • Address book
  • Family members
  • Birthday
  • Religious views
  • Address
  • Website
  • Email address(s)
  • Sexual preference
  • Gender
  • Languages spoken
  • Political views
  • Friends
  • Books you’ve read
  • Bands you like
  • Movies you’ve seen
  • TV Shows you watch
  • Video games you play
  • Food you eat
  • Your Favorite Athletes
  • Restaurants you’ve eaten at
  • Activities you participate in
  • Websites you visit
  • Sports teams you support
  • Your Favorite Sports
  • Inspirational people
  • Favorite Clothing brands
  • Places you’ve visited
  • Events you’ve attended
  • Events you plan on attending
  • Events your friends are attending
  • Major life events (location, dates, who with)
  • Photos
  • Pokes
  • Wall posts
  • Private (haha yeah right) messages
  • Groups you’ve joined
  • Networks you are a part of

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…

  • Videos you’ve watched
  • Comments you’ve liked
  • Websites you’ve visited
  • Articles and websites you’ve commented on
  • Surveys you’ve filled out
  • Companies you like
  • People you’ve been tagged with
  • People you frequently hang out with
  • Friends you’ve requested
  • Friends you denied
  • Friends you’ve un-friended
  • How often you are online
  • Apps you Admin/created
  • Pages you admin/created
  • Your current mood
  • Device you’ve accessed the Internet from
  • Exact Geo-location (longitude, altitude, latitude, time/date stamp)
  • TV, Film, Concert you are currently watching
  • Book or publication you are currently reading
  • Audio you are currently listening too
  • Drink you are currently drinking
  • Food you are currently eating
  • Activities you participate in
  • Advertising you interact with
  • Profiles you interact with most
  • Locations you access Facebook
  • Locations you access web properties connected to Facebook
  • Level of online engagement
  • When you changed jobs
  • How long you stayed in a job
  • Credit card details
  • IP Address
  • Apps you’ve downloaded
  • Games you’ve played
  • Pages/Businesses you’ve un-liked (when)

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.

The Cool

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

Facebook Graph Search

Graph search for particular friends

Select the option you want and everything will appear as you’ve requested.

Pretty cool huh.

The Creepy

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:

Facebook Graph Search result

The creepier side to Graph Search data

The Scary

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’

Should this really be public knowledge?

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)

Police Graph Search

as well as the Australian Navy (over 1000 results)

Navy Graph Search

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.

Get Facebook Data

To download your own Facebook data:

    1. Go to the settings icon of your Facebook account
    2. In the general section of you account settings, there is an option to ‘download a copy of your Facebook data’
    3. Hit the Download Archive option and enter your login details
    4. You will receive an email shortly after containing a link to a ZIP file of everything – photos, info, video etc.
    5. 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.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Want to know some more interesting Facebook info? You might also dig these articles:


Who the hell is Daylan Pearce?

Daylan is a digital strategist for branding agency Principals. Looking after digital and customer experience projects, Daylan has been featured in The New York Times, News.com.au, B&T, ProBlogger and more. He once ate 13 McDonald's cheeseburgers in under 5 minutes, but strongly advises against anyone else ever trying that. He also feels slightly odd when writing about himself in the third person for blog biography summaries.


31 Responses

      • Sharon

        July 22, 2013 3:06 PM

        Always been anti fb but I did set up an account a few years back to locate rels when travelling overseas but have never been able to delete it. Do you have any instructions on deleting fb accounts ?

  1. Zee

    July 8, 2013 12:43 PM

    When everyone started using Facebook, I refused to create an account purely because I had my space and that was enough. The thought of gaming and surveys and likes put me off. So my idiotic girlfriends created an account for me and started using it like it was me… So naturally I took over. I ve always known his about Facebook and in fact there was a time when I spent hours deleting posts and pictures one by one, emailing fb to delete my pictures, and in tagged self everywhere deleted and not de activated my account. Coz you can’t. And even though I am not a very social person, fb withdrawals were on par with nicotine withdrawals. It made me feel like I am out of the loop and have no life anymore. HOW SAD. How sad is it that fb has become our lives or part of our lives. Yesterday I succumbed to candy crush saga and I’m already on level gazillion, you know why? ‘Coz it’s piss easy and a glorified version of every other fux0red version of TETRIS. Am I the only one that’s familiar with the warm feeling while playing these poxy games? I feel dirty. Dirty and content. Like a birthday kid with his left over party snacks once everyone has gone home. If only cold turkey were easy. I need some Facebook patches. Rant over. Thanks for the insightful article Daylan. You’re awesome mate.

    • Daylan Pearce

      July 8, 2013 1:49 PM

      Thanks Zee.I know what you mean. It still feels odd to me how many conversations these days are about or include ‘Did you see on Facebook…’
      For some, a large part of their life seems to be about what happened Facebook rather than what happened in life. Wonder what it will look like in 5-10 or 30 years from now.
      Thanks for reading.

  2. khurram

    July 8, 2013 1:37 PM

    Good insightful read Daylan, but you forgot to mention that Facebook also knows Who searched for What…and when. .

  3. eDigitalFields

    July 8, 2013 3:25 PM

    So, there are some good and bad. The both you have illustrated. It’s all about privacy and I don’t think one want to compromise.

  4. Suzie

    July 8, 2013 7:25 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing this information. My facebook page has been hacked so many times that I closed it down for a time and when I re activated it I did so with only my family members. I dont believe that this would have made a difference because the people who want your information will have many, many ways of finding it. Your point about “did you read this or that on FB” is spot on, but it goes further for me, I have so many friends and family members who constantly have their phone in hand checking FB when we are chatting or out for a meal even. It seems its vital to all to actually post where they are, who they are eating with and even if they are enjoying their meal/ evening. I’d rather leave my phone at home and actually enjoy the evening. Suzie E

    • Daylan Pearce

      July 8, 2013 7:47 PM

      The irony is that the need of being connected all the time is actually making us less connected. Technology is becoming life rather than enhancing it.
      Thanks for reading Suzie.

  5. Jack

    July 8, 2013 7:43 PM

    VERY well written – thank you for this and your many other tidbits!!!!

  6. joe

    July 8, 2013 8:12 PM

    Nice article dude, srsly.
    My personal opinion, I am actually fine with all the info I provide being out there… n truth be known if people or corporations or agencies want to find out about me through social media, I’m fine with that.

    I recently had an article sent to me by a concerned friend about posting pics with Geo information attached to them cos strangers could find out where the pics were taken, and my reaction was… well Duhh! Yet the content of the article was like OMG! They can find out where little kiddies live!!! Think of the children… Couldn’t understand the naivete…

    But anyways, one wee point I would like to make…
    I am not pleased by the good ole USA being all up in arms ‘cos its “secrets” are being leaked… I want governments to be transparent too, and I believe transparancy keeps people and corporations and governments honest.

    If I am not transparent myself, then how can I hope that a government will also be transparent?


    • Daylan Pearce

      July 8, 2013 8:20 PM

      Thanks Joe.
      It’s the way the world is becoming in general I guess. It happened right in front of our eyes mainly because while we were dazzled by the shiny, pretty things, we didn’t notice what was happening underneath. Everything in the article isn’t new information, but to a lot of people this is completely new. If one person out there learns something, then I’m cool with that.
      Thanks for reading Joe.

  7. Gary

    July 8, 2013 11:08 PM

    Daylan – a great read, as usual, about something important. Thanks for writing. I was a bit hesitant to enter my details here though. Who knows what your plans are. :)

  8. Natalie

    July 9, 2013 3:50 PM

    You alluded to the real elephant in the room, which is what happens if a more malevolent force comes to power? McCarthyism, WW2… It’s easy to be complacent about all the info we share but think how difficult it would be if you suddenly wanted to hide something that could be the difference between arrest and freedom, life or death? I’m deeply uncomfortable about how Facebook have engineered a dependence on their platform, one that seems so necessary but so potentially dangerous. We’ve all become personal brands; we’re all ‘broadcasting’ 24/7 for validation, ‘connection’, but what about connectinng in the real world with the people around us? Makes me very depressed, actually.

    • Daylan Pearce

      July 9, 2013 3:57 PM

      Completely agree Natalie. I was erring on the side of caution with the examples I gave for instances like you mention due to not wanting to be disrespectful to certain events. But, yes it had occurred to me how much worse certain things in history could’ve been with this level of open data. Just because things are kind of peachy now, the future is very uncertain and there is no way of stepping back from thoughts you’ve posted today or in previous years online.
      Thanks for reading and your comments.

  9. Reb

    July 9, 2013 5:07 PM

    As I type this, I think of how it requested info so I can comment and this too is data collecting and saving my information. :-)
    Full on what your saying here… and I do not believe we are really far away from the day where the views we declare on Facebook will be held against us… Makes for a great movie, if it wasn’t reality… very clever… who would have thought that Big Brother would actually be something most of us become willingly (albeit without thinking) a part of…

    • Daylan Pearce

      July 9, 2013 5:16 PM

      If you wrap something ugly in enough pretty things, people don’t want to look deeper. In this case the pretty things are Farmville, like votes and pictures of your friends partying.

      “The greatest trick the devil ever played was to convince people he didn’t exist” – Usual Suspects

      Thanks for reading Reb.

  10. Imogen

    July 9, 2013 6:40 PM

    Very interesting reading & I, too, am astonished that people don’t realise what is being shared.
    With regard to Reb’s comment, that day is already here. You *can* be arrested, prosecuted & gaoled for stuff you’ve written on FB and twitter. Direct hate speech is one thing (threatening an individual or group directly to their “face”) but a general comment is enough, too.
    I’m paraphrasing here, but a few years back a man who had had a bad experience at a regional airport commented on social media that he wanted to blow the place up… Can you guess what happened next?!
    The stuff that once would have been a cheeky aside, said to your friends over a pint in the pub, is now broadcast much further afield, with much more serious implications. It is as much a public forum as of you’d written to all the national papers and had your opinion published there. More so, actually.
    Ironically, I read this post because my friend shared it on FB :-/
    Thanks for writing this, it’s important that folk wise up.

    • Natalie

      July 9, 2013 9:19 PM

      *waves* Excellent comment, Imogen! That we’re sharing this post while exposing our own ambivalence shows just how murky and stupidly ironic this really is. Is the ability to discuss important ideas with total strangers worth the possible fallout? I remember recently Sally Bercow being held liable for a libellous tweet.

  11. Deepika Sahay

    July 26, 2013 5:57 PM

    I am not an avid facebook user,only visiting the site when bored to death. Your article was enlightening in a novel way and like Imogen said, folks need to wise up.

  12. Laura Phillips

    July 30, 2013 2:04 AM

    HI Daylan, love this post! I’ve never actually sat and looked at the list of data we give to Facebook quite happily – it IS scary!

    Back in February I wrote a post about the kind of information you could find out about people with a few examples, but yours is far more comprehensive.

    PS I am stealing this (with credit): “If you’re not paying for a product, then you probably are the product.” and FYI I once ate 36 sausages in one sitting.