If you think Facebook doesn’t have a profile on you, even if you don’t have an account, think again. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed during a House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing that his company does, but added it’s for “security purposes.”
Zuckerberg is testifying in a series of Congressional hearings about Facebook’s privacy practices. The hearings were spurred by media reports that Cambridge Analytica used millions of Facebook profiles as a tool in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Representative Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) asked Zuckerberg specifically about what he called “shadow profiles” during the hearing. Zuckerberg said he wasn’t familiar with the term, but confirmed Facebook does in fact create profiles for non-users to prevent anyone from collecting user profiles en masse, just like Cambridge Analytica did with Aleksandr Kogan’s thisisyourdigitallife app.
Through the app, Cambridge Analytica was able to harvest profiles from the Facebook users that took the quiz, along with the profiles of all their friends. In the end, the firm was able to amass millions of user profiles.
After Zuckerberg confirmed Facebook has non-user profiles, Rep. Lujan said, “You’ve said everyone controls their data, but you’re collecting data on people that are not even Facebook users who have never signed a consent, a privacy agreement.”
Opting Out of Facebook Data Collection
With Facebook’s data collection on non-users established, Rep. Lujan asked, “Can someone who does not have a Facebook account opt out of Facebook’s involuntary data collection?”
Zuckerberg said that everyone can opt out of data collection for advertising purposes—even if they don’t have a Facebook account—but didn’t offer up any details on how non-users can actually do that. The Mac Observer’s searches through Facebook’s help files didn’t offer up any clues, either.
As far as we can tell, to have any sort of control over the data Facebook collects and what’s done with it, you have to sign up for a Facebook account. Rep. Lujan drove that point home saying,
You said everyone controls their data, but you’re collecting data on people that are not even Facebook users that have never signed a consent, a privacy agreement, and you’re collecting their data. And it may surprise you that on Facebook’s page when you go to ‘I don’t have a Facebook account and would like to request all my personal data stored by Facebook’ it takes you to a form that says ‘Go to your Facebook page and then on your account settings you can download your data.’ So you’re directing people that don’t even have a Facebook page to have to sign up for a page to reach their data.
Facebook’s Flimsy Data Policy
Based on Zuckerberg’s responses, and Facebook’s practices, it looks like the company’s assertion that our data belongs to us is flimsy at best. For people who don’t use Facebook, there isn’t even a way to know if the company has built a profile on you.
In other words, even if you don’t have a Facebook account, there’s a good chance Facebook has its own data profile on you. The only way to find out what information the social networking service has on you is to create an account, but even that doesn’t guarantee you’ll get to see that data.
That doesn’t do much to back up Zuckerber’s assertion that we have control over what information Facebook collects, and how it’s used. In fact, it sounds like we don’t have any control over the information Facebook collects. Considering Facebook has some 29,000 data points on the average user, that’s a pretty sobering thought.