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Security & privacy

Facebook surveillance oversteps boundaries

Everyone knows that Facebook tracks every like, share and status update. But that’s not as far as the accusations go against the social media giant. In fact, it wasn’t all that long ago that a professor from the University of South Florida claimed the Facebook app was using her microphone to listen in on her conversations for targeted advertising. (Click here to read the full story.)

Collecting data for the purposes of placing relevant ads is one thing. But what if Facebook was tracking you to determine your emotional health, and then passing that information along to advertisers? Wouldn’t that make you feel less comfortable?

While pitching potential advertisers, Facebook has reportedly admitted the type of conclusions that can be drawn based on the data the company mines through each day. A top bank in Australia, for example, was told that the data could identify how a person was actually feeling in that particular moment.

Teenagers should be especially worried since officials from the Australian bank also reported they were told Facebook could tell when teens felt insecure or worthless, and when they needed a boost of confidence.

According to Facebook, this data is only meant to provide advertisers with more insight into how Facebook users choose to express themselves. The company also maintains that this information is excluded from its ad targeting tools. But, can we trust that? Especially when Facebook has already openly admitted to running psychological experiments on its users, such as the secret study it conducted on nearly 700,000 account holders back in 2012.

The experiment was conducted secretly in response to claims that positive posts shared on Facebook caused other users to feel bad. The data Facebook collected by quietly observing account holders, however, suggested otherwise and the results were released in a publicly published paper nearly two years later, in 2014.

Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, responded to the downpour of negative feedback by saying, “We thought it was important to look into this, to see if this assertion was valid and to see if there was anything we should change about Facebook… Although the subject matter was important to research, we were unprepared for the reaction the paper received when it was published and have taken to heart the comments and criticism. It is clear now that there are things we should have done differently.”

As a result of the 2014 debacle, Facebook promised to change things and created guidelines that must be followed for any future research projects that examined particular demographics. Such projects would require an “advanced review process” that considered all legal and privacy concerns.

So, has Facebook forgotten the promise it made back in 2014? It sure seems like it. These examples demonstrate just how much information Facebook has the capability to gather, and how this data can be used for targeted advertising.

What can you do?

Since Facebook holds all the strings, there isn’t a way to hide all of your activity. However, one thing that can help is to opt-out of Facebook’s targeted advertising. This doesn’t mean that you’ll stop seeing ads in your News Feed. It just means that Facebook won’t be able to use data collected from your likes, shares and posts to determine the types of ads you see. If you’d like to opt out, the process is simple. Click here, and we’ll walk you through it.

While you’re locking down your profile, it’s also a good idea to block other companies from tracking your activity on Facebook. Click here to see who’s watching you on Facebook, and learn how to block them.

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