Facebook And Data Brokers: What Facebook Knows About Your Offline Life, Including Salary

Facebook is a popular social media tool that allows people to connect with friends and family, but the price to be paid comes with Facebook’s collection of personal information on its users which they collect from data brokers.

MIT Technology Review reports that a continuing investigation by ProPublica reveals that Facebook goes beyond their user agreement where they state that they will provide you with the opportunity to use their website in exchange for personal information that you provide online. ProPublica states that Facebook’s website tells users that they gather information about them “from a few different sources.”

Facebook has contracts with data brokers that provide Facebook with very personal information about you that you might not be sharing online. Information such as your salary, how many credit cards you have and use, and your favorite restaurants are all handed over to Facebook. Contracts with these data brokers have been in place since 2012 after Facebook signed up with Datalogix.

While Facebook has always said that they are “transparent” with their collection of user data where they assign areas of interest to specific users, ProPublica decided to create a tool that will allow Facebook users to find what categories they have been placed in. They have so far found 52,000 different areas of interest since September, which are placed in categories like “Breastfeeding in Public.”

Facebook logo outside of the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, California on January 12, 2012.
Facebook logo outside of the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, California on January 12, 2012. Does knowing that Facebook use data brokers make you feel any differently about the company? [Image by Paul Sakuma/AP Images]

However, when ProPublica used Facebook’s advertising platform to find out what kind of parameters purchasers of ads could use, they discovered that there were almost 600 areas being used that were “provided by a third party.” Furthermore, most of these had to do with Facebook users’ financial history.

The Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy, Jeffrey Chester, feels that Facebook is not being completely honest about their use of different data brokers.

“They are not being honest. Facebook is bundling a dozen different data companies to target an individual customer, and an individual should have access to that bundle as well.”

When Facebook was recently asked about their use of data brokers, they said that the reason they don’t disclose information about third-party data is because that data hasn’t been collected by Facebook itself. Steve Satterfield, a Facebook manager for their privacy and public policy, explained that the approach Facebook uses when it comes to collecting data from users differs from that of data brokers.

“Our approach to controls for third-party categories is somewhat different than our approach for Facebook-specific categories. This is because the data providers we work with generally make their categories available across many different ad platforms, not just on Facebook.”

Steve Satterfield also stated that Facebook users who don’t feel comfortable with offline information being shared with Facebook could contact these data brokers directly. He said that there is a specific page located in the help center of Facebook that will give users opt-out links for the different data brokers that are selling users’ personal information to Facebook.

However, ProPublica decided to try this procedure out with data brokers themselves and found that it was extremely complicated. They found that Oracle’s Datalogix, for instance, requires that Facebook users send in a written request to them in the mail, along with “government-issued identification.”

Facebook users can ask data brokers to provide them with the information that they have on them, but ProPublica discovered that this was cumbersome. Acxiom, one of the data brokers that Facebook uses, required that those who wished to see their personal data send their company the last four digits of their social security number.

The founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, discusses new privacy settings in Palo Alto, California on May 10, 2012.
The founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, discusses new privacy settings in Palo Alto, California on May 10, 2012. [Image by Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Images]

ProPublica reports that when the reporter Julie Angwin was writing a book on privacy, she decided to try what Facebook suggested, by opting out of as many data brokers as she could. Out of the 92 brokers who were accepting opt-outs, 65 of these required that Angwin furnish them with a copy of a government-issued ID, such as her driver’s license. She found that she was unable to remove her personal data from most of the providers.

Does knowing about Facebook’s use of data brokers and their ability to glean personal information about your offline life make you feel any differently about this social media platform and would you ever consider leaving Facebook because of this?

BI the Facebook public relations team reached out to the Inquisitr with a statement on the ProPublica piece.

“ProPublica’s piece neglects to mention the ways we provide transparency and control around the ads experience on Facebook and off. A person can click on the upper right corner of any ad on Facebook to learn why they’re seeing the ad. When they’re seeing an ad because they’re in a data provider’s audience, we tell them that and link to the data provider’s opt-out.

Furthermore, we think when people choose not to see ads based on certain information, they don’t want to see those ads anywhere. When a person makes changes to her Ad Preferences (which apply to Facebook’s ad categories), we do our best to apply those choices wherever we show ads to that person using Facebook data. We wanted controls for data provider categories to work similarly, so we required the data providers to provide opt-outs that work across all the services that use their data for ads.”

[Featured Image by Joerg Koch/AP Images]