Surprised by how much Facebook knows

<strong>The Way I See It</strong> Jason Hawk, editor

The Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor

Your online privacy is no joke and you should be worried about it.

Facebook is caught up in a huge scandal right now over just how much of your personal data it collects and where all that info ends up.

Congress plans to grill CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the social media company’s business practices and how personal details mined from your activity can be used to subtly influence your decisions.

That’s not all — the Federal Trade Commission confirmed March 26 that it’s investigating Facebook’s privacy policies. This comes just weeks after a German court ruled the company’s data mining operations were illegal because it hasn’t done enough to gain users’ consent.

Curious about just how much Facebook knows, I decided to check my own archive.

You can see everything it keeps about you too by clicking “Settings” and choosing “Download a copy of your Facebook data.”


I don’t consider myself a heavy user, but Facebook had 3,342 items about me stored away in its database.

It amounted to 493 MB. Much of that was comprised of copies of every photo and video I’d ever uploaded.

There was also a log of every Messenger conversation I’d had: The complete text of every conversation that had been typed along with dates, times, and duration.

Going a step further, Facebook has collected a list of all my phone contacts, including phone numbers (which it shouldn’t need) and email addresses.

There’s a list of all my friends and their birthdays, as well as lists of the people I’ve declined or removed as friends and their birthdays.

The log shows every time I’ve every posted, including the time of day and my location at the time. It shows the IP address of every device used to log in. It shows when I’ve made account changes such as updating security settings, uploading a new profile photo, changing passwords, and whenever I had to answer a security question. It shows what browser and operating system I was using and what service ( such as Verizon or Spectrum) I used for Internet access.

There was a list of all the Facebook events I’d attended. It also tracked a fairly comprehensive list of apps I’d installed on my phone.

If you’re using Facebook from Windows 10, it’s set up by default to have access to your microphone and webcam, too. So in addition to seeing what you post and knowing what you’re writing about and liking, the software could actually be listening to what you say and watching what you do.


Facebook has a legitimate use for most of this information. And — like many of you out there — I’ve willingly given that information to Facebook.

The question at hand is what the company does with the info and how well it protects it.

At the end of the day, it’s all about money. Facebook posted nearly $16 billion in revenue last year, during which ad revenue increased 49 percent.

Remember: You are not Facebook’s customer. You are its product. It doesn’t sell social media — it sells advertisers access to you.

My profile assigns me to a group called “Established Adult Life,” which, from what I can tell, is an ad category. My archive shows what ad topics I should be interested in based on my social media habits.

For example, it knows I’m interested in baseball, philosophy, podcasts, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, movies, Amherst, Oberlin, Wellington, ethics, Saturday Night Live, Warner Bros. Interactive, the Summer Olympics, the American Humanist Association, schools, democracy, Atari, and “Adventure Time.” It knows what kind of music I like. It knows what TV shows I watch.

Importantly, it knows my political leanings, including the party to which I am registered. Facebook also knows (though this isn’t made explicit in the downloadable archive) how much time I’ve spent looking at political articles and which ones have caught my interest.

It knows every sponsored post I’ve ever clicked on, from “25 Examples of the Mandela Effect That Will Make You Think That You’re Insane” to “My Mind Is Blown After Finding Out These 21 Historical Figures Never Existed” to the “Deadpool 2” trailer.

It includes a list of advertisers that have been given (to Facebook’s knowledge) my contact info. Among them are Target, Safeway, Spotify, Live Nations Concerts, State Farm, MileIQ, and several bands.

And that’s just Facebook. If you use Android, Chrome, or other Google services, the folks over at Google know far, far, far more about you — everything you’ve ever searched for, every email you’ve ever sent or received (even if you deleted it), every place your Android phone goes and for how long, every news article you’ve ever read.


That’s just the cost of living in the Information Age, right? Maybe. But it has the potential to be hugely damaging.

For example, Facebook’s current scandal involves how political firm Cambridge Analytica got the info of about 50 million users, and how it put that data to use in the 2016 election. It was allegedly used to build psychographic profiles of voters and steer them toward decisions that the company was paid to get.

That goes beyond advertising. If true, it’s manipulation, and it casts an ominous pall over how elections can be subverted without ever rigging a voting machine, paying bribes, or hacking anything.

The Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor