I downloaded my Facebook data. Nothing there surprised me.

I downloaded my Facebook data. For the most part, I didn’t find anything there that I didn’t voluntarily provide to Facebook. It’s worth noting a few things that people should pay attention to.

Contacts

When you install Facebook, it asks you for access to your Contacts. This is so it can help you find more friends to connect with and so you can use your Contacts with Messenger. Or so I thought.

Your contacts get uploaded to Facebook who then has complete reign over it. They can sell that data to advertisers; they can use your connections to sell you ads, you name it.

It also appears they permanently retain your contacts. Even if you clean up your address book somehow, Facebook will still keep your old contacts on file.

If you are using your Contacts app to store passwords and codes — bad idea! I strongly recommend using something like 1Password for managing your passwords.

While your contact information is public anyway, what I find disturbing is the widespread sharing of contacts with entities I am not doing business.

Consider a scenario where you create a private email account to use with your friends and business associates that you hope will be free of spam, unsolicited email, etc. You update your business card in Contacts to have that address, and you share it with your associates.

Now, one of your associates installs a game and lets it have access to their Contacts so it can find their friends. That’s it! Now your private contact info is out there, shared with spammers and advertisers. I find that upsetting and so should you.

Sadly there is little you can do. I wish there were a way to mark a contact card as “Do Not Re-share” such that only I, as an owner of it, can share directly with people. Alas, this doesn’t exist and as long as contacts can be shared your information will continue to float out there in the ether.

Advertisers

The exported data shows your interactions with advertisers. Most interestingly it shows you advertisers that already had your name in their files and had Facebook specifically target you.

Some of these advertisers I was aware of as I’ve done business with them. The rest of them, however, must have obtained my name from some data broker. I find that shady, but not surprising.

Messenger

The data export contains all private messages you ever exchanged using Messenger. Somehow I had the impression of Messenger being a walled garden and a private island but turns out that Facebook scans your messages and retains them permanently in clear text.

I am not surprised. Bear in mind that your cell phone company can read your SMS messages, your employer can read the words you send over corporate channels, and a phpBB/Tapatalk administrator can also see the messages you send. If you want real privacy, you have to look elsewhere. I strongly recommend using Apple products and iMessage for texting.

Final thoughts

There was nothing in the data Facebook collected on me that I found surprising. Most of the data were stuff I have willingly and voluntarily provided to Facebook. The only disappointment was their retention of Messenger communications.

 

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