What can Facebook really do with your information?

When sharing images, comments and other items on your various social media platforms, do you really know what these platforms can do with your information? Moneybags journalist Jessica Anne Wood finds out.

You believe that have the strictest security settings on Facebook enabled on your account. You assume this means you select who can see your posts and pictures. You’ve also posted a message on your timeline that has been doing the rounds that Facebook may, under no circumstances use your information or images and that they are yours. But this is sadly not enough.

Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, explains: “You own the content you post, including copyright and rights of any form of reuse. However, you are by default allowing Facebook to use this content for purposes ranging from identity verification to recommending friends, through automatically matched data to targeting advertising more accurately. To do so, it needs the rights to use this information or content, such as including your profile photo in a friend recommendation, without having to ask permission each time. However, you can limit such use through your privacy settings.”

While Facebook is a free-to-use service, there will always be some kind of cost associated with such services. “In this case it is the cost to your privacy and content being utilised to enhance the service. However, Facebook does not say people cannot stop it using their personal information, or at least not in the way it is portrayed in the media.”

A recent news report stated that people cannot prevent Facebook from using the personal information that they provide. However, if you look closely at the terms of service and data policy for Facebook, you will see that this is not quite as cut and dry as you might think. (See below for more information on these)

According to Goldstuck, most of the information used by Facebook is in aggregated form. “Where people find themselves personally exploited – and it is a stretch to say targeted advertising falls into this category – they have a legitimate grievance. In such cases, Facebook still has a long way to go to ensure protection of users’ rights, as it is not eager to address cases individually.”

Data policy and terms of service

When signing up to any service, website or platform, it is important to know what will be done with the information that you share and/or provide. There aremany ways in which Facebook can use your data. The policy highlights that depending on which services you use, Facebook “collects different kinds of information from or about you.”

  • Facebook can use the content and other information you provide: When you sign up for a Facebook account, create or share content, and message or communicate with others, Facebook is privy to all of this. In addition, data on how you use the various services, for example the type of content you view or engage with, as well as the frequency and duration of your activities, is also recorded.
  • Information other people provide about you: Content and information provided by other people making use of Facebook and its services is collected. This includes when a person shares a photo of you, sends you a message, or uploads, syncs, or imports your contact information.
  • Payment information: If you make a transaction using Facebook or one of its services, it will collect and store this information. This includes, your credit or debit card number and other card information, as well as account and authentication information, and shipping, billing and contact details.
  • Device information: Facebook also collects information pertaining to the devices you access the social media site or its services from.
  • Information from websites and app that you visit: Information is collected from any third-party websites and apps that you visit or use that make use of Facebook’s services, for example websites that feature a Facebook ‘Like’ button.
  • Facebook companies: Companies that are owned or operated by Facebook also collect information on you and this is used and stored by Facebook, as per their terms and policies. This includes WhatsApp.

It is advised that you read through these documents yourself, as this is just a snippet of Facebook’s policies, the links can be found below.

How is this information used?

It is used by Facebook to “provide and support their services.” This includes providing personalised content and making suggestions using the information gather on you. “When we have location information, we use it to tailor our services for you and others, like helping you to check-in and find local events or offers in your area or tell your friends that you are nearby,” explain the data policy.

It also states: “We use the information we have to improve our advertising and measurement system so we can show you relevant ads on and off our services and measure the effectiveness and reach of ads and services.”

Furthermore, the information collected on you is used to verify accounts and activity, as well as to promote safety and security on and off of the service. This includes investigating suspicious activity or violations of the Facebook terms or policies.

This information can also, under certain circumstances be shared. When you use Facebook, you decide the audience that can view your content, such as a select group of people, all your friends, friends of friends, or public where anyone can see your content. Facebook clarifies in its data policy: “Public information is available to anyone on or off our services and can be seen or accessed through online search engines, APIs, and offline media, such as on TV.”

When you use third-party apps, websites and other services that make use of Facebook services or are integrated with the platform, these parties may receive information about what you post or share. This information is also shared with other companies that form part of the greater Facebook business, such as WhatsApp.

Facebook lists the following types of third-parties that it can share information about you with:

  • Advertising, measurement and analytics services (non-personally identifiable information only).
  • Vendors, service providers and other partners.

Managing and deleting information about you

Through the Activity Log tool, you can manage the content and information you share. Any information associated with your account will be kept until your account is deleted or unless the data is no longer needed by Facebook to provide products or services.

“Keep in mind that information that others have shared about you is not part of your account and will not be deleted when you delete your account,” highlights the data policy.

Reporting unauthorised use of content

When it comes to Facebook and other social media platforms collecting, and/or using, your information, Goldstuck says you need to ask yourself how much you value your privacy.

“For most users, it is a non-issue. Most content posted is ephemeral in nature, and the average person seldom cares what happens to it beyond their immediate circles, as long as it is not being misused. In the vast majority of cases, people are trading off the potential privacy incursions for the very real social benefits. Those who are mildly concerned should learn to manage privacy and content settings. Those who are deeply concerned but see the benefits should work at becoming power users of these settings. Those who are paranoid or those who don’t see the benefits should avoid social media,” says Goldstuck.

But what if you find that something you posted on Facebook has been used without your permission in a way that you are not happy with, do you have any recourse you can take against Facebook?

There are many forms of recourse, including removing your tag from photos and following automated processes to report misuse of your information. While these are not fool proof, they address the average complaint.

Handy links

Facebook terms of service: https://www.facebook.com/legal/terms

Facebook data policy: https://m.facebook.com/about/privacy/#