Think you’re not on Facebook? Think again.

The social networking site doesn’t need you to be a member to get your data

Just because you ignore Facebook doesn’t mean Facebook is ignoring you. The group Europe vs Facebook has filed a complaint to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, alleging that Facebook is breaking privacy laws by building “Shadow Profiles” of individuals who have never signed up with the social networking site.

It’s certainly true that Facebook collects information about non-users; whenever you use the site to invite off-site friends to join up, or when you invite them to events through email invites, Facebook, by necessity, is storing those addresses, at least long enough to send your pals an email. And whenever you sync your phone contacts or email address book to Facebook, the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of any non-FBing friends you may have are delivered to Facebook’s servers.

What we don’t know is what Facebook is doing with this info. Are they storing it indefinitely or destroying it? Are they compiling and aggregating it—matching an email address you typed in last year with a phone number you synced yesterday to a name you mentioned in today’s status update? Is Facebook mapping these individuals in a hidden social graph? Are they building an alleged network of “Shadow Profiles”? If so, why?

Facebook isn’t saying. The company provides no information on how it handles the non-member data it collects. Perhaps it’s time they cleared the matter up. After all, if you don’t have a Facbook profile by now, it’s probably because you made an active decision *not* to—it’s not like you’ve never heard of the the site. It’s just that you didn’t want them to hear about you.

Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown




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Think you’re not on Facebook? Think again.

  1. Why  my profile on facebook contains zero information — from Zuckerberg’s IMs while he was in Harvard:

    Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

    Zuck: Just ask. 

    Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

    [Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?

    Zuck: People just submitted it. 

    Zuck: I don’t know why. 

    Zuck: They “trust me” 

    Zuck: Dumb f*cks.Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/well-these-new-zuckerberg-ims-wont-help-facebooks-privacy-problems-2010-5#ixzz1bFGWvmIR

  2. Reminder: Facebook doesn’t care what your name or phone number are. They’re tracking your movements online (through the little “like” buttons on other websites) to build a profile of “Human #89243752″ which can be sold to advertisers. “This human visits this bank website weekly and this car website monthly.”

    But you might not know other websites are doing it too, just on a smaller (except for Google) scale. If you participate in anything online, you’re being tracked in some manner. So the important takeaway is: limit your exposure, consider the risks, and always double-check your bank statements. :-)

    • So that’s why every time I watch a youtube I get an annoying subscribe to Macleans ad, lol!!!!

    • I’m sure that would be of boundless relief to the 4000 staff members whose home addresses Zuck was offering to give out.  Why, those application clerks who sometimes have to turn down angry students probably feel much better knowing that Facebook specifically doesn’t care what their address is.

      The concern is that with the attitude Facebook and Zuckerberg display toward privacy, your information might easily make its way into the hands of someone who *does* care, and not for your best interests.

  3. Frankly I don’t care about the advertising.   I mute TV commercials, and I’ve never, ever clicked on an ad because to be honest I don’t give them a first glance, nevermind a 2nd glance. 

  4. Pretty well every website you visit downloads a cookie. This cookie can do anything it’s programmed to do. From just tracking your online activity for mechants, or downloading a virus, Trojan Horse etc.
    Having a robust Anti-Virus program is a must if you are goiing to use the web at all. A strong firewall
    is one of the most important components of the Anti-Virus program along with Identity Ptotection
    and Phishing detection.

  5. 2010-04-22 My Mac Address Book sync’ed with FaceBook and added FaceBook profile info to the Address Book, even those people who are not FaceBook friends. I thought this was a security breach of note, so I exported the sync’ed info. It took less than two days for this breach to be closed, and all FaceBook info was struck from Address Book. 
    This doesn’t mean it’s ended, I just don’t see the obvious intrusion. 

  6. anyone using a ‘free’ site should not be fooled into thinking they are a member or customer, rather they are actually the product.  Users profiles (whether legitimate or shadow) are sold to advertisers in the form of ‘eyeballs’ and the more you claim to have to offer advertising corporations, the more money you can command for ad space. Once an advertiser actually figures out the true effectiveness and ‘reach’ of the ads the bubble usually bursts, new advertising dries up and user fees are implemented. In most cases the website aims to cash-in at peak numbers and unload the site to an entity hungry to get in the social media game or more distastefully, go public and sell the site back to the users who have already made it rich  

  7. 1) Don’t get a Facebook account.

    2) Reject/ignore invitations to join Facebook.

    3) Do not send email invites. Call, text, IM or send a plain text email to another personal email address.

    4) No Facebook = no sync.

    5) No Facebook = no Likes.

    5) No photos of you online.

    6) Multiple email addresses with varied, unique names that do not contain any reference to your real name.

    So… what was the problem with Facebook collecting non-member data again…?

    Yes, you can’t be totally anonymous when using the Internet. What you can do, however, is to minimize and cloak your footprints to the bare minimum. Surrendering and broadcasting the details and minutiae of your lives to a social site does not help.

    Two more things:

    1) Free things are not always 100% free. There’s a catch somewhere. In Facebook, you’re the product. Your eyeballs are the products for advertisements.

    2) As with all things in life, old relationships die and new relationships replace them. Why not let long-lost friends remain as part of your fond memories instead of seeking them on Facebook? Go out into the big world and make new friends, OFFLINE.

  8. I would like to comment about the zynga public offering. New issues are almost always bad investments the vast majority of these stocks are way over priced on purpose. I always recommend that investors stay away from these stocks. The craze today is any stock having anything at all to do with social networking.

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