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Shadow profiles: Facebook knows about you, even if you’re not on Facebook

Shadow profiles: Facebook knows about you, even if you’re not on Facebook
Dreamstime.com

The more we learn about Facebook's reach, the less we seem to like. Sure, we knew that it had photos and other information we've provided it, but we now know their tentacles reach even farther than that.

In some ways, maybe it's unfair to get upset. After all, we did accept certain terms when we signed up for Facebook, and it's our choice to upload pictures and other information that it has.

Granted, the massive file of information it has on each of its users is disturbing in its breadth and scope, but nevertheless, we allowed for it to happen when we registered. But what if you never actually signed up for Facebook?

They will still have a file on you

Yeah, even if you have never had anything to do with Facebook they may still have a file on you. They are known as "Shadow Profiles," and Mark Zuckerberg claimed to not be familiar with them during his testimony to Congress.

However, it's doubtful he is unaware that they exist and for what purpose. If anything, he was probably dodging the question due to the term, which he may or may not be aware of.

What, exactly, is a Shadow Profile?

As noted earlier, anyone who has signed up for Facebook authorized (knowingly or not) certain things to be recorded about them. Furthermore, they willingly upload plenty of information, thereby providing Facebook with a blueprint of who they are.

Where Shadow Profiles come in is for people who are not on Facebook. Even though they don't have a profile and never log in, the site is still able to collect data on them through cookies that are part of other sites.

Ever see a Facebook logo for sharing or other purposes on a random article or site? That will allow Facebook to know you were there. That helps with targeted ads, with advertising being how Facebook makes its money.

Zuckerberg said information is gathered on people who are not on Facebook in order to prevent outsiders from "scraping" data. As he puts it, they need to be aware of when people are repeatedly trying to access their services.

Yet, where the problem lies is even if you give Facebook a pass for collecting data because even if you accept the terms of service originally, you are free to at any time change your privacy settings to prevent the collection. But if you never signed up, then you never accepted any terms nor would you even be able to opt out of anything.

In what world is that at all OK?

What, if anything, can I do about it?

No one would blame you for being concerned with what Facebook collects on you, and if you want, deactivating or even deleting your account could be an option. Facebook says your data will be removed within 90 days of deletion, so if that's the route you want to go, it's there for you.

As for Shadow Profiles, that is a different story altogether. The Digital Advertising Alliance created a consumer choice page that lets web users learn which of its participating partners are using customized ads on their computer.

The page will show you which companies are doing that and then provide an option to opt out of the advertising cookies (Facebook included). This will not get rid of everything on your computer, but it will help.

Folks who use Firefox for their web browsing can also download an extension called "Facebook Container," which will prevent Facebook from tracking your online presence.

Even with that, it still seems quite wrong for Facebook to be collecting information on people who want nothing to do with the site. That's where the government, in part due to its inquiries over the week, may have to step in.

Ever post a selfie? Shocking data Facebook is stealing from your pics

When it gets down to it, you should probably have a better idea of what Facebook is learning every time you publish a picture (how many selfies have you taken today?). After all, it never hurts to have a better grasp of our online privacy, and you can get that by reading this.

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