It’s no secret that Facebook collects information on all its users. The Cambridge Analytica scandal in April brought the extent and depth of this data acquisition to the public eye, leading Congress to request Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear before them. Senators asked the company over 2,000 questions, which Facebook has now answered. And it appears there’s a lot of ways in which the social media platform can track us that many people might not be aware of.
Whenever you are on Facebook, the site tracks your mouse movements, which the company claim helps them decide if you are a human being or a robot. They also track whether the page is open in the foreground or background for the same reason.
Facebook also collects a lot of information about the device you’re using. They know your mobile operator, battery level, signal strength, and available storage space. They track your IP address, cookie data, time zone, and even your connection speed. They also obtain information such as your operating system, browser type, and file names based on all your different interactions with the site.
And it’s not just recording details about your devices, the company also collects information about where you are as well. It can get location information from your camera and photo metadata unless you specifically ask it not to. It also records the signals received from Bluetooth devices, Wi-Fi hotspots, and cell phone towers. Facebook says this allows them to work out if the user is stationary or moving.
There is a fine line between the convenience of using the platform and how much we are sharing. If a retail website lets us sign in with Facebook, the social media company gets information about our shopping. And call logs and a history of your SMS messages are given to Facebook if you authorize your Android device to sync with the app.
This information comes from two documents (that can be read here and here) that the company has given to Congress. Together they comprise more than 450 pages. Facebook argues that their collection of data is not unusual and that many other Internet companies do the same thing. And yes, online platforms do collect an awful lot of information on their users, but the committee’s focus on Facebook is due to the company’s loss of control of how its data was used during two extremely controversial political campaigns in 2016. It will be interesting to see if this scandal will change how tech companies collect and store information about their users in future.