Facebook is watching you!

May 1,2018

Facebook is one of the most famous social media sites in today’s modern world. Started by Mark Zuckerberg with his fellow roommates in 2004 to allow students at Harvard University to connect with each other, Facebook gained immense popularity in a short span of time and is now used by 2.2 billion people worldwide. It has also played a vital role in transforming the world into a global village.

Facebook in the news

However, recently Facebook has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Beginning in 2014, 87 million Facebook users around the world had their data harvested by a firm called Cambridge Analytica in a major data privacy scandal. Allegations have been made that this data was then used to manipulate users to decide the fate of the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and the outcome of the 2016 Brexit vote.  This has prompted U.S. federal agencies to open investigations into the tech giant.

How did this happen?

You might want to know now how this was done and what type of data was compromised

The answer is simple: targeted advertisements and surveys.

Have you ever noticed that after you have searched for something online from your computer, the next time you log into Facebook you see advertisements full of similar or related products? For instance, if you are searching for new homes on your device you may notice Facebook starts showing you pages for real estate agents or properties available near you.

So, what is Facebook tracking about me?

If you are an active member on Facebook, they track pretty much everything on your account. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Your personal details - account details that you initially provided when you created your account, including your date of birth, where you live, the high school/college/university you attended
  • Posts/pages you liked or shared
  • Groups of which you are a member 
  • Comments you have made
  • When, where, how, and for how long you have used your account
  • Chat history
  • Call history
  • Phone book
  • SMS messages
  • Your location
  • Facial recognition data
  • Apps installed on your phone

And the list keeps growing…

How was this data used?

The answer lies in the use of “psychographic profiles”. Based on all the information above, it becomes easy for anyone to assume what type of person you are and what you may like or dislike. Your psychographic profile is then used to match you with advertisements or surveys that you are most likely to respond to. This same strategy was used by Cambridge Analytica to micro-target voters in U.S and the United Kingdom.

How would I know if my data was compromised?

More than 620,000 Canadians were affected in this data harvesting scandal.

Facebook announced a few days ago that it will be pushing a notification to the top of the news feed indicating if you are affected. All you would need to do is log out and log back in to your account to see it.

What is Facebook doing to make this right?

Going forward, Facebook announced that it will audit and shutdown apps that are collecting information from your account. They will allow users to check which apps were collecting their account data, and provide the option of shutting them down, which was not previously possible. Facebook will also lock APIs (Application Programming Interface), end data partnerships and make privacy settings simpler and more powerful.

How can I keep my information safe?

Keeping your data safe on social media is very difficult. The best advice is to limit the amount of private information you share about yourself, regularly review installed apps that have access to your data, consider limiting access to your networking page to a small group of people, and change your privacy settings (turn off GPS location access, etc.).


Written by: Satnam Singh Deol (Cyber Security Analyst, CCS Information Security)