Facebook Tracking your Web Activity

 

Hello and thank you to all the listeners out there who have tuned in on this chilly day. Today is Monday, November 23rd, 2015 and if you enjoyed last week’s podcast, you should for sure stay tuned for today's because it’s going to be an interesting and informative one. I’m Richie Ly and in this episode I will be talking about your privacy when it comes to Facebook, and them keeping track of your everyday web activity.

I’ll start off by asking you guys this: Do you ever think about this type of issue when you’re going online? Or do you just go online to see the latest news that’s happening around the world. I highly doubt a lot of you turn on your laptop, smartphone, or tablet when you get home and think to yourselves, “I wonder if Facebook can access my web activity.” Well, they can. I’m sure everybody remembers coming home from elementary school and logging into their Facebook to talk to their best friend they just said bye to, post things that happened during the day to get “likes” for, and have “poke” wars with as many people as possible. For me, I went on Facebook to play games, and the games I played were Farmville and Café World. I had no stress what so ever so surely nothing could have been going on right? Unfortunately there was.

Heather Richter Lipford, Andrew Besmer, and Jason Watson from the Department of Software and Information Systems in the University of North Carolina state in there piece about Facebook Privacy that, and I quote, “Facebook was intended as a forum for student interaction and information flow on college campuses. Since Facebook opened to the general public, it has grown to 62 million active users.” End quote. So from that piece of writing, it’s stating that the use of Facebook was supposed to help college students with information regarding their campuses, but it eventually led them opening it up to the general public to gain more users, and ultimately gaining more profit as well. We’ll come back to the topic of profiting later on in the podcast.

I managed to conduct a questionnaire on five people about this topic and a couple questions included if they usually kept Facebook open while on other websites and if they were concerned or even thought about that at all. The results showed that everybody answered those two questions with “Always” and “Not Concerned”. Yet, in another question, they all stated that all of them have had a Facebook account for 4 plus years. Yes I know, it’s only a small handful of people who answered the questions the same way, but do you ever think about the big picture? What if ten people answered it the same? Twenty people? Two hundred people? For all we know, everybody could potentially feel the same way as the ones that filled out the questionnaire.

I was able to dig up some information regarding the number of people on Facebook, and according to the Facebook Newsroom there are, and I quote, “1.55 billion monthly active users as of September 30, 2015.” So there are more than 1 billion users on Facebook and if we were to say as much as 80% of them were also not concerned, that’s 800 million people that are affected and unaware of this going on at all. Even if the percentage of people was as small as 20%, that’s still 200 million people affected. Think about these numbers for a second because it’s a significant amount of people.

Even after conducting a questionnaire, I decided that I wanted somebody’s raw opinion on this topic. I ended up conducting a very short interview to get further evidence to add to my sources. The person I interviewed was a lady named Quynh. I’ll just let you guys take a listen for yourselves, so here is how it went:

Richie: Hi there, so what would be your biggest concern when it comes to using Facebook?”

Quynh: “What do you mean by concerns?”

Richie: “I mean like anything that might worry you when you’re on Facebook and browsing around it.”

Quynh: “Ohhhhhhhh. Okay. Uh. I don’t really have any concerns but if I had to think of something right now, I’d say it would be scrolling through my newsfeed and accidently liking someone’s post who I don’t like?”

Richie: “Yeah I guess that would be quite a scary situation.”

Quynh: “Yeah I always try to avoid that no matter what.”

Richie: “I would too if I was you. So, can you think of anything else that might be concerning to you, even the slightest bit?”

Quynh: “Umm… To be honest, no I don’t really see anything that would be concerning because I go on Facebook for fun when I have nothing to do to see posts from my friends and read about celebrity news, so I don’t really give it much thought at all.”

Richie: “So you’re saying that’s the only thing that you can think of?”

Quynh: “Yeah, I can’t really think of anything that I would be concerned about.”

Richie: “Okay that’s fine. Thank you for your time.”

And that was the interview. It was a pretty short interview but it contained so much information about Facebook users even if she was only one user. I tried getting any concerns out of her, even the smallest bit, but she couldn’t think of anything at all, even when I kept pressuring her to say anything. Think about it this way, her biggest concerns were someone she doesn’t like getting a notification that he liked their post. That’s it. You guys heard it for yourselves, she didn’t even mention anything about security. Are people blinded by this type of thing going on or are we just ignoring it? This type of issue can be compared to you losing your health card, driver’s license, or any other type of I.D. People start panicking when they can’t find it because they fear that it could get into the wrong hands of people so they go get a new card as soon as possible. So how come when our information is being gathered online, nobody does anything about it?

Now, when we come across new websites, new apps, or new games, and they have pages and pages of rights, agreements, and conditions that we “allegedly” agree to, even though we don’t read any of it at all. Yes, don’t worry, you can admit it, we’re all guilty of doing this before. We just scroll to the last page and check mark the box pretending we read everything, even though we didn’t because we feel it’s a waste of time, then move on with our lives. Yet these types of rights and agreements more likely than not, include information concerning our privacy.

So why does a billion dollar company do this and what’s the whole point of it? Let’s go back to the topic of profiting. Reports from CBC News and The Guardian suggests that it’s all part of an advertising scheme. Yes, a shocking discovery that something so secretive is revolved around even more money. No it’s not really a surprise because I believe money controls the world but let’s focus on the topic at hand. Facebook gathers information about your web activity in order to redirect you to advertisements that would attract you and potentially give them more profit. They increase their odds of this being successful when they know what interests you based on what you might have been viewing online on a daily basis, because without this type of information, they could be directing the wrong type of advertisements to the wrong people. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, they call this, “interest-based advertising”. They do this so often that they have even come up with a term for it; that’s how far it’s gone.

I have a perfect example of this occurring to me last year when I was looking for gifts online for Christmas shopping. So long story short, my little cousin is crazy about minions, everywhere he goes it’s all about minions, minions, and even more minions. Every new product that is created with their faces on them, he’ll have to have it. Whether it’s a toy, a towel, or even a pair of socks, he has to have it. So, I decided I would add to his already large collection and get him one of those minion outfits or pajamas you could wear at home. Unfortunately the website I visited said that they wouldn’t be able to deliver it before Christmas so I chose not to get it.

Ironically, a couple of days later, I went on Facebook, and I was scrolling down my newsfeed, and all of a sudden I saw an advertisement of the exact same minion outfit but from a different website. There it was, staring me right in the face out of nowhere. In that moment, I kind of freaked out, scratched my head and wondered, “How the heck did the advertisement end up on my Facebook newsfeed?” I knew something was up.

So how does this type of situation impact you, you might ask? I think the better question here is, “How does it not impact you?” Besides the fact if you never had a Facebook account before, but other than that, it impacts you. You can look no further than the story I just told you. Everybody shops online now, it’s part of the evolution of technology, I mean, you can even purchase stuff from your phone with a click of the button. The amount of exposure we have to the public is quite concerning and we’re allowing them to do this to us. We’re allowing them to gather our personal information for the benefit of only themselves. We’re allowing them to risk our information to get into the wrong hands of someone who might have different intentions than them.

After doing further research, I came across a piece of writing called, “Gendering Facebook: Privacy and Commodification” by Nicole S. Cohen and Leslie Regan Shade from Concordia University that mentions an example of how Facebook could do this. The part of the reading said, and I quote, “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that women in New York aged 18 to 30 who list “running” as an interest could be precisely targeted to promote running shoes.” He is essentially saying that they can access, as well as use your interests as a way to advertise products to you.

According to ZDNet, “In 2011 Facebook was hit with a $15 billion class action lawsuit for tracking users after they've logged out.” They have found a new way around this as they have a different technique, which is placing cookies on webpages that are linked directly to Facebook. To get further information of how exactly they track us, you can visit my blog post on Square Space in the illuminated transcript of this podcast. ( https://stephanie-bell-m08b.squarespace.com/config#/|/blog-season1/220dc2df-bbf1-47b2-8222-3921ca99bf0c)

Catherine Dwyer, from Pace University in New York suggests similar ideas to CBC News and The Guardian in that, and I quote, “Social networking sites record all interactions, and retain them for potential use in social data mining.” End quote. She then went on to say, “Studies have indicated that users will express very strong concerns about privacy of their personal information.” End quote. I don’t know about you guys but I found that quote interesting because how in the world can these people express strong concerns about the privacy of their personal information if they’re not even aware of it? Doesn’t that mean they would do something if they were aware? I think so.

So what can you do about it? Simple. Don’t go on Facebook at all. Spend all your time just listening to podcasts. I wish I could tell you guys that it’s that easy but unfortunately it’s not. It’s much more difficult than that because once you’ve gone on Facebook, they can track you even if you never go on it again because of trackers that are placed on webpages. I know, it sounds suspicious but it’s not like we can’t do anything about this. There are ways to stop this from happening to you. I did a bit of research and according to the Business Insider, there are several downloads you could use for free such as Evidon, Ghostery, Do Not Track Plus, and Collusion for Chrome.

All of these downloads supposedly help your device keep track of the trackers, alert you of them, give you the ability to block them permanently, and even deny third parties from accessing your information as well. These could definitely help you be more secure but now a days, technology is so advanced that it’s difficult to believe in anything, I mean for all we know, those downloads that block trackers, could contain trackers themselves.

If you decide you don’t want to download anything, the other option is to adjust your browser setting in order to control the trackers. In order to do this for Google Chrome, simply open a new browser for Chrome, then head on to preferences, from there you’ll click settings, then advanced Settings, followed by privacy, content settings, and finally, you click, "Block Third Party Cookies and Site Data." I used Chrome since it’s the most common browser that’s out there but if you use a different browser, don’t worry, you can check out the other ones in the transcript for this podcast: ( http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-how-to-stop-facebook-from-tracking-you-2012-9?op=1).

One of the very last things you could do if all of those options don’t work for you, and you want to be on Facebook on a daily basis, would be to try using a separate browser for only Facebook only. This means that when you’re surfing the web with Google Chrome for example, and you decide you want to check out your messages, try opening Facebook with Firefox, Internet Explorer, or some other browser. This way, you will keep the two browsers separated from one another, thus keeping the information separate as well. I hope this helps a lot of you out there in dealing with this issue and if you’re wondering how I managed to gather all this information to create this week’s podcast, you can check out some of the steps I took in the illuminated transcript on Square Space. ( https://stephanie-bellm08b.squarespace.com/config#/|/blog-season1/16cf8043-83ab-4844-a491-9da06aca6280)

This is just one of many podcasts involving the use of ICT’s and I highly recommend you go check out the other podcasts and have a listen if you’ve enjoyed mine to gain even more information about these types of issues. Be sure to tune in next week when I recap the biggest news that have occurred throughout this past year. From the Bill Cosby allegations, to the release of the popular movie series, Furious 7, to the coming out for Caitlyn Jenner, and even the controversial blue and black or white and gold dress, next week’s podcast will cover everything in the year that was. Well, I’ve had a great time doing this but unfortunately that’s all the time we have for today, I hope you guys have enjoyed this podcast and make sure you share this with your friends and family. Have a great day.

References

Lipford, Heather, Andrew Besmer, and Jason Watson. "Understanding Privacy Settings in Facebook with an Audience View." Web. 20 Nov. 2015. http://static.usenix.org/events/upsec08/tech/full_papers/lipford/lipford_html/ http://static.usenix.org/events/upsec08/tech/fullpapers/lipford/lipfordhtml/

Company Info." Newsroom. Web. 21 Nov. 2015. http://newsroom.fb.com/company-info/

Misener, Dan. "Does Facebook Track Your Web Activity across the Web?" CBC News. 27 Sept. 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/does-facebook-track-your-activity-across-the-web-1.1017241

"Facebook 'tracks All Visitors, Breaching EU Law'" The Guardian. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/mar/31/facebook-tracks-all-visitors-breaching-eu-law-report

Powell, Rose. "How to Stop Facebook Snooping on Your Web Browsing Activity." The Sydney Morning Herald. 24 June 2014. Web.http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/how-to-stop-facebook-snooping-on-your-web-browsing-activity-20140624-zsk98.html

Cohen, Nicole, and Leslie Regan. "Gendering Facebook: Privacy and Commodification." Web. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.469.6029&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Blue, Violet. "Facebook Turns User Tracking 'bug' into Data Mining 'feature' for Advertisers." ZDNet. 17 June 2014. Web.http://www.zdnet.com/article/facebook-turns-user-tracking-bug-into-data-mining-feature-for-advertisers/

Dwyer, Catherine. "Trust and Privacy Concern Within Social Networking Sites: A Comparison of Facebook and MySpace." Web.http://aisel.aisnet.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1849&context=amcis2007

Felix, Samantha. "How to Stop Facebook from Tracking You." Business Insider. 12 Sept. 2012. Web. http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-how-to-stop-facebook-from-tracking-you-2012-9?op=1

Felix, Samantha. "This Is How Facebook Is Tracking Your Web Activity." Business Insider. 9 Sept. 2012. Web.http://www.businessinsider.com/this-is-how-facebook-is-tracking-your-internet-activity-2012-9

Ly, Richie. [Photo of Laptop on Facebook] 31 Nov. 2015