"They do not eliminate anything, and that's a general policy," said Gabriel Weinberg, founder of DuckDuckGo, which offers privacy tools on the Internet. He added that the data was kept to eventually help brands to run targeted ads.
Beth Gautier, a Facebook spokeswoman, put it this way: "When you delete something, we remove it so that it is not visible or accessible on Facebook." He added: "You can also delete your account whenever you want. It can take up to 90 days to delete all the backup copies of the data on our servers."
Exploring your Facebook files is an exercise that I highly recommend if you care how you store it. and use your personal information. This is what I learned.
Facebook holds more data than we think
When you download a copy of your Facebook data, you will see a folder that contains multiple subfolders and files. The most important is the "index" file, which is essentially a set of raw data from your Facebook account, where you can click on your profile, friend list, timeline and messages, among other features.
A surprising part of my index file was a section called Contact Information. This contained the 764 names and phone numbers of all those in the address book of my iPhone. After a closer inspection, it turned out that Facebook had stored all my phone book because I had uploaded it when I set up the messaging application of Facebook, Messenger.
This was disturbing. I was hoping that Messenger would use my contact list to find others who would also use the application to be able to easily connect to them, and to hold on to the relevant contact information only for the people who were in Messenger. However, Facebook kept the entire list, including the phone numbers of my auto mechanic, the buzzer on my apartment door and a pizzeria.
This felt unnecessary, although Facebook clings to its phone book to keep it synchronized with its contact list in Messenger and to help find people who have just registered for the messaging service. I opted to deactivate the synchronization and deleted all the entries in my phonebook.
My Facebook data also revealed how little the social network forgets. For example, in addition to recording the exact date I registered on Facebook in 2004, there was a record of when I deactivated Facebook in October 2010, only to reactivate it four days later, something I barely remember doing.
Facebook also kept track of every time I opened Facebook in the last two years, including the device and the web browser that I used. On some days, he even registered my locations, like when I was in a hospital two years ago or when I visited Tokyo last year.
Facebook keeps a record of this data as a security measure to mark suspicious logins from unknown devices or locations, similar to how banks send a fraud alert when their credit card number is used in a suspicious location . This practice seemed reasonable, so I did not try to purge this information.
But what bothered me was the data that I had explicitly deleted but that lasted in plain sight. In my friends list, Facebook had a record of "Deleted friends", a dossier of the 112 people I had deleted along with the date I clicked the "Do not receive friends" button. Why should Facebook remember the people I cut out of my life?
The explanation of Facebook was unsatisfactory. The company said that I could use my list of deleted friends so that those people would not appear in my feed with the "On This Day" feature, which brings back memories of past years to help people remember. I prefer to have the option to delete the list of friends deleted forever.
The advertising industry has eyes everywhere
What Facebook retained about me is not remotely as scary as the large number of advertisers who have my information in their databases. I discovered this when I clicked on the Ads section in my Facebook file, which loaded a history of the dozen ads I had clicked on while browsing the social network.
Below, there was a section titled "Advertisers with your contact information", followed by a list of approximately 500 brands, the overwhelming majority of whom had never interacted. Some brands sounded dark and incomplete: one was called "Microphone Check", which turned out to be a radio program. Other brands were more familiar, such as Victoria & # 39; s Secret Pink, Good Eggs or AARP.
Facebook said that unknown advertisers could appear on the list because they could have obtained my contact information from another party, compiled from a list of people they wanted to direct and loaded that list on Facebook. Brands can upload their customer lists into a tool called Custom Audiences, which helps them find the Facebook profiles of those people to run ads.
Brands can get your information in many different ways. These include:
■ Buy information from a data provider such as Acxiom, which has accumulated one of the world's largest commercial databases on consumers. Brands can buy different types of customer data sets from a provider, such as contact information for people belonging to a certain demographic group, and take that information to Facebook to post specific advertisements, said Michael Priem, executive director of Modern Impact. , an advertising company in Minneapolis.
Last month, Facebook announced that it was limiting its practice of allowing advertisers to target ads using information from third parties such as Acxiom.
■ Use of tracking technologies such as web cookies and invisible pixels that are loaded into your web browser to collect information about your browsing activities. There are many different trackers on the web, and Facebook offers 10 different trackers to help brands collect their information, according to Ghostery, which offers privacy tools that block ads and trackers. Advertisers can take some data they've collected with the crawlers and upload them to the Custom Audiences tool to show ads on Facebook.
■ Obtaining your information in a simpler way too. Someone with whom you shared information could share it with another entity. For example, the loyalty program of your credit card could share your information with a chain of hotels, and that hotel chain could send you advertisements on Facebook.
The result? Even a Facebook lurker, like me, who has barely clicked on any digital ad can have personal information exposed to a huge number of advertisers. This was not entirely surprising, but seeing the list of unknown brands with my contact information in my Facebook file was a dose of reality.
I tried to contact some of these advertisers, such as Very Important Puppets, a toy manufacturer, to ask them about what they did with my data. They did not respond
What about Google?
Let's be clear: Facebook is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to information that technology companies have collected for me.
Knowing this, I also downloaded copies of my Google data with a tool called Google Takeout. The data sets were exponentially larger than my Facebook data. For my personal email account alone, the Google file of my data measured eight gigabytes, enough to store approximately 2,000 hours of music. In comparison, my Facebook data was about 650 megabytes, the equivalent of about 160 hours of music.
Here was the biggest surprise in what Google collected on me: in a folder labeled Ads, Google kept track of many news articles that I had read, such as a Newsweek story about Apple employees walking on glass walls and a New York Times story about the editor of our column Modern Love. I did not click on the ads for any of these stories, but the search giant registered them because the sites had loaded ads served by Google.
In another folder, labeled Android, Google had a record of the applications it had opened on an Android Phone since 2015, along with the date and time. This felt like an extraordinary level of detail.
Google did not respond immediately to a request for comments.
On a brighter note, I downloaded a file of my LinkedIn data. The data set was less than half a megabyte and contained exactly what I expected: spreadsheets from my LinkedIn contacts and information I had added to my profile.
However, that offered little comfort. Be careful: once you see the large amount of data that has been collected about you, you will not be able to unlink it.
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