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Why Are You Sharing Your Personal Data on Facebook?

You wouldn’t post your personal information on your car window and then drive around the country, would you?  Well, you may be doing the equivalent on Facebook.

Have you ever taken one of those quizzes on Facebook that answers those life-changing questions like “What’s My Power Rock?” or “Which Superhero Does My Dog Resemble?”. You may be sharing more information than you gain.

When you take those quizzes all your private info is likely being shared with the quiz developers – whomever they may be. Those seemingly innocent and fun quizzes are actually apps designed to gain access to all of your personal information on Facebook. This unrestricted access has raised concerns with privacy groups for years… and it should do the same for you.

What You Are Sharing

What you may not be aware of is that in addition to the personal information you share in the quiz itself, that the “data mining” continues long after you have complete the quiz. Once you’ve connected an app or website to your Facebook account, the app developer can maintain that connection for months afterward and can continue to request your personal information.

According to Facebook, app developers can request access to more than 40 different data points. The most basic of permission is your “public profile” which includes:

  • Facebook username and ID
  • Your name, profile picture, and cover photo
  • Gender and Age Range
  • Schools and Workplace
  • Language
  • Country

All other permissions are required to go through an “app review” by Facebook staff. You can accept or reject these permissions individually.  However, some apps actually need this information to function.  They include:

  • Birthdate
  • Email Address and Phone Number
  • Hometown and Current Location
  • Religious and Political Views
  • Facebook Groups and Events
  • Photos, Videos and Posts
  • List of friends who use the same app
  • Things you have liked

Facebook states that they have strict rules about how developers can use all of this information, but in fact, Facebook has little means of enforcement. Often no action is taken against an abusive developer until after the damage is done, as we saw with Cambridge Analytica.

What Are The Consequences

Imagine if all the data you shared on Facebook – who you are friends with, every post you liked, every opinion you agreed with, every photo you shared, every place you “checked into, every Facebook page you like or Group you belong to – could be bought, sold, and even stolen.

What would someone know about you based on all of the above? What would the know about all of your friends, as well?  If you’ve ever done a personality quiz through Facebook, you may be one of the thousands of people who unwittingly supplied information about yourself and your friends for use highly targeted psychological profiles exploited in recent campaigns.

Interacting with these quizzes can also result in browser extensions being installed on your computer that can allow hackers to pose as you and collect further information and even take control of your browser. The improperly obtained information consisted of names, ages, and friend lists, which hackers then used for targeted advertising that they injected into users’ feeds.

The FTC issued a report on how data brokers create detailed profiles of American citizens and market that data widely. It isn’t supposed to be used for credit or job screening, but the operative word here is “supposed”.

What Should You Do

  • Any time you connect an app or website to Facebook, review the permissions and deselect any that isn’t critical to the app’s functions.
  • Go into the “Apps and websites” section of your Facebook settings and remove any apps you don’t use or that require permissions you are not comfortable with.
  • Lame quizzes spread rapidly across Facebook and one of the simplest methods fraudsters and hackers have to collect data – choose your quizzes wisely.
  • Adjust your Facebook privacy settings to protect yourself.
  • Choose your friends wisely. Many people are excited at the possibility of gathering hundreds if not thousands of Facebook Friends—many of whom are friends of friends instead of people they actually know. Anyone you accept as a Facebook Friend will be able to view your profile and postings unless you say otherwise.

Above all – if you suspect that your information has been compromised, or that an app developed has access to your information after you have removed the app – contact Facebook and/or your local law enforcement agency.


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