Facebook has long allowed its users to see the kind of things the social network knows about them, such as whether they have recently traveled, sports they like, etc. However, the social media giant gives its users little indication that it purchases far more sensitive data about them, reports Pro Publica, (via Business Insider).

Facebook
Photo by geralt (Pixabay)

Using data brokers to get offline data

This hidden data could include the types hotel users frequently visit, their income, the number of credit cards in their wallets, etc. Facebook says it gets data about its users from a few different sources. What the social media giant is not saying is that those sources include detailed dossiers received from commercial data brokers about users’ offline lives, notes Pro Publica. Also the tech giant does not show users any information it obtains from those brokers.

Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said the tech giant is not being honest. Chester said the company is bundling a number of different data companies to target a customer, and an individual should also have access to the said bundle.

This week when the tech giant was asked about the lack of disclosure, it responded that it does not tell users about the third-party data because it was not collected by it, and this data is widely available.

Why does Facebook not reveal everything?

Steve Satterfield, Facebook’s manager of privacy and public policy, said their approach to controlling third-party categories is different than their 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,” Satterfield said.

Users who want information to be available on the platform should directly contact the data brokers, said Satterfield. Also users can visit a page on Facebook’s help center. This page provides links to the opt-outs for six data brokers that sell personal data to the tech giant.

Limiting the distribution of your personal information by commercial data brokers is not a simple matter. For example, according to a BI analysis, to opt out of Oracle’s Datalogix, which provides about 350 types of data to Facebook, a user is required to send a written request and a copy of government-issued identification in the postal mail to Oracle’s chief privacy officer. Further, users can ask the data brokers to show them the data they have stored about them. However, that is not simple either.

Facebook responds to report

In response to our piece, a Facebook spokesperson sent this statement:

“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.”