What does Facebook do with your data?

On April 7, 2011, in Facebook, by Zaid Rasid

The Users

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So when did you join Facebook? Can you remember the date? Is it even possible to find out? (It is and I’ll show you how below)  The general public was first introduced to Facebook on September 26, 2006. I joined just a few days later.

Five years later and here we are. If you happen to be from Canada you’ll be surprised to learn that about 17 Million Canadians own an account. As of today, Canada’s population is close to 33M people which means more than half of all Canadians are on Facebook.  Let me make this even more clear, 1 out of 2 people in Canada own a Facebook account.  If you’re from Toronto, you’re  among the 705, 000 Facebook users second to only London who has 810,000.

Who Cares?

By looking at the data it turns out that a lot of people care about Facebook.  And with numbers like the above, and we haven’t even mentioned the enormous US population, it’s a website that you can’t take lightly.  Sure it might be a place where we talk to friends and we upload photos but what you can’t do is underestimate its influence.  It’s definitely something we should all pay attention to.

Who Else Cares?

Aside from your own interest in Facebook there are a few other parties who care about your account.  They include: Facebook the corporation, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs and an entourage of investors, Mark Zuckerberg, potential shareholders,  Google and competitors, Marketers, Advertisers, Celebrities, Businesses, Governments, Military and HACKERS.  Wow, there’s a lot of people who are all deeply invested and extremely interested in your Facebook account.

But why would anyone care about what club I went to last night?

I could throw out a number of how much Facebook ‘s corporate valuation is but by tomorrow it could be 2x, or 3x higher.  As of today, the number is being estimated at $60B.  How can a website be valued so high?  Well for two reasons: accessibility and data.  Consider the above Canadian user numbers again.  If I approached an advertiser and told him that I could give him access to 1 out of 2 Canadians, do you think he would pay good money?  Well it’s no surprise that internet advertising is a big deal considering Google uses AdWords to generate around $28B in revenue yearly (2010).   So access to a market is very attractive.

Data

Now let’s talk about data.  What could Facebook actually do with all of our data?  Do you think they could sell it off to marketers who are looking for accurate consumer information and trends?  You better believe it.  The concept is called data mining and although the industry isn’t large it’s one potential avenue.

But in addition to Facebook, who else could get access to your data.  Well it turns out- hackers.

Your Pictures are in Oregon

So that was a long winded introduction to my topic at hand: protecting your information. Remember, I joined Facebook in 2006 which means that around five years worth of my content is published on Facebook.  This means my pictures, my conversations and my account info are all sitting on some server (computer) most likley in the US.  Some of Facebook’s infrastructure is located in Virginia, Oregon and California.

Now I’m sure that Facebook does a good job of protecting our information and setting up security measures to prevent malicious attacks on their servers.  But do remember, they are a private company so the decisions and actions they make affect you.  I won’t go too much into the Terms of Use debate or the issue of content ownership, but I will say that the reality is, your data is on their servers.

I Just Hacked Your Facebook Account

So if it’s not enough that we have to worry about Facebook the corporation, another important player to watch out for is the hacker.  Hackers love trying to get into your Facebook account.  And there are a lot of easy ways for them to do that.  One of the main ways they hack your account is by leveraging your security settings.  Every time you give access to ‘Everyone’ in your account settings, you’re broadening your reach that includes a potential hacker.

Now I’m not trying to scare you away from Facebook but I am trying to educate you about important things you should consider regarding your account.  It’s about using common sense.  There are a ton of articles already written about adjusting your settings so I’ll discuss a few tips.  I included some videos below too that include some really easy tips to protect your account.

Protect Yourself from Wifi.  If you’re out and about using Wifi networks (open Wireless network) at Starbucks or other locations, then chances are you’re surfing using the http protocol.  This means everytime you log in to Facebook your login information is succeptible to hackers, if they’re amid your location (and it’s very easy to do). Although this is unlikely, it’s something important to consider.  Instead, you want to adjust your account and use the https protocol; which means your log-in information will be encrypted.  Watch the first video to learn how.

Download your data profile.  Facebook allows you to download a version of everything you have ever uploaded or published to Facebook and they will send you a link to download this information.  Keep in mind, this is sensitive information as well, so protect it and make sure it’s on a safe, personal computer.  See the second video below to learn how to do this.  This task will give you a clear understanding of the type of information you’ve uploaded to their servers.

Use your common sense. When you upload photos to Facebook, make sure you consider the implications of the photos getting into the wrong hands.  If your account includes your home address, give some thought on whether this is important to you. Same goes for your email address and your phone number.  With regards to your status updates, consider that what you have to say now could have different meaning five years from now.  So use judgement when writing and consider those implications as well (especially if you want to be a politician or public figure (and I’m terrible at this:))).  If you’re using Facebook to message people, keep in mind that those messages are all recorded somewhere online as well.

Some more resources:

Firesheep (on open wireless networks):

This link isn’t being shared with you to encourage you to hack into someone’s account.  But it is possible, and it is really easy. I won’t accept responsibility for damages caused by sharing this link but I will say it’s a way to illustrate our vulnerability online and our need to be aware.  I’ll tell you this much, this simple Firefox extension can grant you access to GMAIL, Hotmail, Yahoo, Amazon accounts and more.  And I’ll tell you another thing, it’s been downloaded over 1M times.  Careful using WIFI!

http://codebutler.com/firesheep

Facebook Security:

http://www.allfacebook.com/facebook-privacy-2009-02

 

Stay safe!

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