It is international day withtout Facebook or the ‘No Facebook’ day if you prefer.
It is the day to celebrate every individual’s pledge to fight for online freedom and stand up against mass-surveillance by the online social media and advertising giant, Facebook, Inc. Despite security breaches and privacy scandals the platform continues to thrive. This is why we strive to inform as many people as possible about the threat that Facebook poses in our every day life.
You might be one of the millions of people that have deleted their account following the Cambridge Analytica scandal or per your new year resolutions: good for you and for your privacy! You are not the only one.
But keep in mind that it’s not because you no longer have a Facebook account that you are shielded from their tracking.
At /e/ we strive to give people control over their privacy and help them make educated choices to protect their personal data on their smartphones.
In this article we will highlight how Facebook is embedded in our smartphones and what that means for your personal data.
What does Facebook normally know about you?
Officially, Facebook only knows about you if you create an account on their platform. They pledge to protect your privacy and supposedly only keep limited data for the purpose of connecting you to your loved ones. But once you scratch the surface, you realize they stock massive quantities of personal information. This includes every message you have ever sent, every file you have ever shared, all the contacts in your phone, and all the audio messages you have ever shared.
You might say, ‘ok that’s normal I published it on my Facebook account in the first place so it is fair’. Yet, they also gather other information that is not related to published or shared content. Login details are stocked, including precise metadata information (when you signed-in, on which device, your precise location, with whom you interact, etc…). They memorize the apps you have connected or logged into using Facebook account.
Based on all that data, profiling is quite straightforward and models of your interests, and past or future purchases, are made accessible to the highest bidder.
Wordstream, a noted online advertizing company created a detailed infographic to show all the ad-targeting options available on Facebook in 2019. Options are broken down into 5 categories: demographics, interests, behaviors, connections and re-marketing.
You find all of this information directly on Facebook’s website if you’re ready to scroll through the countless categories. Enjoy!
With 2.89 billion monthly users world-wide, a little shy of 57% of the world’s current working population , the mass of collected data keeps on growing and is a major concern for privacy and for democracy in general.
What if you don’t have an account?
The most alarming thing about Facebook is that even if you don’t have a Facebook account, they can still track and profile you with their apps’ built-in trackers that are included in most common applications you use.
You surely have seen in many apps that you can log in to a service using your Facebook ID and not have to create a new account. This is called the ‘Single Sign-on’. In theory it is very practical, you leverage an existing profile, no need to create another ID or remember another password. In practice, it’s a data mining tool.
According to a report by Privacy International in Dec 2018, when testing 34 applications on Android, each with an installation base from 10 to 500 million downloads, they would transmit data to Facebook via the Facebook SDK and especially with the Single Sign On tool as described in this video:
61% of these tested applications automatically transfer data to Facebook as soon as a user opens the application. This is the case even if the user doesn’t sign in with a Facebook account. The complete report is available below:
This was not happening on fishy apps that you will probably never install. This was going on with popular apps such as ‘My Talking Tom’, ‘Indeed Job Search’, ‘Kayak’, ‘Tinder’ and, ‘OKCupid’ to name a few. Since the report came out some of the apps have stopped sharing data in 2019 for the time being.
Does using an iPhone garantee privacy?
Despite what Apple promotes in its advertising, iPhone users are also at risk. These apps are also sharing data with Facebook on the iOS platform.
According to another report by the Washington Post from May 2019, iPhone Apps also share valuable information with trackers. The only benefit on iOS is that Apple is not preventing apps from security firms to help you block them as a user.
How do we solve this?
At e Foundation, we believe that your data is YOUR data. We strive to deliver a different model, where you can use a smartphone without being spied upon but also identify potential threats to your privacy.
Within /e/OS, our Google-free pro-privacy Android OS, you can check whether a specific app includes any Facebook trackers before you download it on your phone. This information is directly available from our on-board application repository.
We leverage the excellent work by Exodus Privacy, a community based non-profit platform that audits and analyses the presence of trackers in Android applications, and transparently shows what trackers are hidden within each app.
Facebook have their trackers built-in a wide amount of Android apps out there, as shown in this graph:
Back to /e/OS, we use this intelligence from Exodus Privacy to create our our privacy score, that ranges from 10 to 0, 0 being the lowest, combined with a colour code from green to red.
Our scoring is based on 2 criteria:
the number of trackers makes up 80% of the scoring. It is based on a static analysis of the app and comparison with trackers’ signatures.
the number of permissions composes the remaining 20% of the scoring. It is based on Android developers public guidelines.
This scoring is transparent and meant to make users aware of privacy risks before they install their favourite apps. Recommendations for more privacy- friendly alternatives will also be available in the future, based on the same transparency.
For now we only highlight trackers in each app, in the very near future, we will allow you to keep these unwanted trackers from stealing your precious data. Stay tuned!
Visit the e.foundation site to learn more.
Download /e/OS for your smartphone here.