Facebook: Nothing “Fine” About Their Fine Print

It was probably a boring Wednesday afternoon that you came home from school, threw your bags on the floor, and jumped in front of the TV. You remembered everyone at school was talking about this new website that allows you to keep up with everyone from school, even the popular kids. It’s free and gives unlimited access to all their pictures, all their conversations, and basically a VIP internet pass to their seemingly perfect lives. You log onto your computer and create an account for this website within minutes. First name; Last name; E-mail address; Age; Gender; you enter all of this information, and more, without any hesitation, check that “Agree to Terms of Use” box, and hit Enter.

You were now on Facebook.

Within a few hours, you’ve gone through many profiles. You learned that Sarah from Biology has three sisters that all look alike; that Allen from Calculus didn’t like the new Harry Potter movie; and that Rishi and Tina are making plans to go ice skating at Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday evening at 6pm. You now know the intimidate details of their lives, while in reality, you aren’t actually friends and would likely never discuss such personal matters.

You can’t help but wonder what everyone knows about your life. Could it really be that easy to get a look into the personal lives of complete strangers? YES. It is really that easy. And I hate to break it to you- but not only can Facebook see what you post when you post it, they can do a whole lot more with your pictures, posts, updates, and personal information. Remember when you were signing up for Facebook and checked that “I agree to the Terms of Use” box without reading a word of all that fine print? Yup, that’s when you decided to allow Facebook to have ownership over your content. You didn’t read the Terms of Use then and you’re likely not going to read them now, or ever.

Well, lucky for you- I took the time of my incredibly exciting life (HA, I wish) and spent about an hour and a half reading through that beast. It didn’t actually take me that long to read the whole thing, but it did take me a long time to fully understand what I was reading, and since you are likely a normal person that has no prior knowledge (or interest, frankly) in reading legal contracts, it would probably take you just as long. And here’s what I found:

Facebook can sell your information to companies without telling you.

Screenshot straight from Facebook’s Terms of Use.

This means that Facebook takes all the information you willingly upload and sells it to companies that are looking for customers just like you. They then place ads, very strategically, throughout your News Feed to grab your attention. What? You thought that was all coincidence? Think again, friend.

Facebook keeps your information until they’re done with it.

Screenshot from Facebook’s Data Policy

Even after you decide to delete your content (pictures, posts, groups, etc.), Facebook may keep it for as long as they need. They conveniently phrase it as “as long as it is necessary to provide products and services to you”, as if it’s not in the interest of their own profits. Key thing to note here is that they decide when your content is deleted. That means there’s a good chance that any pictures you may have deleted in past are still alive deep in the Facebook Dungeon of Data.

Facebook keeps a track of everything you do. Everything.

Things you do and information you provide. This includes all your pictures, personal information, likes, personal messages, shares, wall-posts, and more.

Things others do and information they provide. This includes all the pictures, personal information, likes, personal messages, shares, wall-posts that OTHERS post about you or to you. This means that if someone adds your contact info to their phone (i.e. name and phone number), and their settings are synced to Facebook, your name and phone number are now in Facebook’s database. And they can do whatever they want with it.

Your networks and connections. This includes all the groups you’re part of, both public and private, and all the pages you’ve “liked”. A recent study showed a positive correlation between people of higher intelligence and curly fries. Yes, you read that right- curly fries. It probably makes no sense to you because there can’t possibly be any connection between the two, but the focus isn’t on content- it’s on the correlation. Facebook was able to gather information like this by tracking people’s likes and looking at their social circles. That means that if one harvard grad liked “curly fries” on Facebook, all his other Harvard friends have a high chance of also liking “curly fries”. Crazy. Read more about this here.

If you’ve ever made a purchase on or through Facebook, they now know where you live.

If you make any purchases through Facebook (like buying something for a game or making a donation), Facebook gets access to your payment information. YOUR PAYMENT INFORMATION!!!! This is such a huge breach of privacy, I can’t even. This includes all your credit/debit card information, billing details, and shipping details (your address, people!!!). If information like this were to ever get in the wrong hands, that could certainly do a lot of damage.

Facebook can track your location through your phone.

Just by logging onto Facebook through your phone, you give out information about your physical device and your provider. This gives them information about your time zone (aka, where you are in the world), your phone number, your IP address (which can be used to track other activity outside of Facebook), and even your location through GPS, Bluetooth, and WiFi. Basically, you’re always on their radar.

So, what do you think? Would you have ever known how closely you’re being tracked? And that you actually agreed to it all? I doubt it, and that’s the biggest problem with 99.999% of Terms of Service used. Though they are in fact legal contracts and certain things need to be said, it’s incredibly intidimating for an Average Joe to read through it all and understand what they’re consenting to. It makes you feel like platforms such as Facebook are just trying to steal from you without you realizing it, so that in the end when you finally realize what you agreed to, it’s too late to do anything about it.

Read the Facebook Data Policy to learn more about what Facebook can do with your information.

Remember, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.
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