Facebook's "Shadow Profiles": "We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious".
Jun 24, 2013
The cavalier sloppiness with which Facebook handles the personal data of the site's one billion-plus users is one thing but what is even worse is that the data that somehow made it on to the web contains information that had not been given to Facebook by users to the social networking site. The company had taken the data from other places and has been compiling the so-called "shadow profiles" in secret.
Caught out, bang-to-rights, Gollum-like Facebook apparatchiks explained that they had 'accidentally' mashed shadow profile data with user's Facebook profiles and posted the resultant combined data sets to anyone and everyone who "had some connection to" the individual concerned - no matter how tenuous or spurious that connection may have been. You see, "We has to have the data. We wants it. We needs it."
All this data was instantly viewable by anyone who downloaded an archive of an individual's account via Facebook's DYI (Download Your Information) app.
What Facebook seems to be doing is using vast processing power to trawl other Internet sites and user browsing behaviour secretly to collect other email addresses of its subscribers, as well as telephone numbers, credit card and financial details (and who knows what the hell else?) and link them to the accounts and details of other people - some or all of whom may be Facebook refuseniks. These agglomerated details form the basis of the 'shadow profiles' that are then, by means that Facebook has yet to reveal, are matched to other accounts.
The practice is rotten and the company seems to consider itself to be too big to take cognisance of public disquiet and complaint. So far Facebook has refused to disclose the app or tool that it uses to collect, manipulate, archive and match data sucked in to its insatiable maw from outside Facebook itself.
The only way to stop its disquieting antics is to boycott the site and go elsewhere - however, for tens of millions of users the damage is already done. Facebook claims that it was secretly harvesting the additional user data for no other purpose than to "to better create friend suggestions". And if you beleive that...
The reality is that Facebook collects data to make itself money. The information freely (if foolishly) supplied to the site in exchange for its dubious free services is one thing - and, of course, we have no ability to determine how much of that information is true and accurate or fake and fraudulent - but trawled data from elsewhere must, by its very nature, be even more likely to be inaccurate, probably out-of-date and certainly questionable.
Confronted by yet more evidence of its contempt for its customers Facebook will say only that it "remains unaware that any malicious use has followed" from the 'inadvertent release' of the data. How on earth it can make such a claim beggars belief.
Facebook's determinedly off-hand attitude has angered a growing section of the site's users but others are likely to join the chorus of disapproval after, yesterday, the company's "Policy Communications" department sent out an email blaming users for the trouble! The company claims that the information generated by a user is the sole responsibility of the user and the terms and conditions document users must acquiesce to before opening a Facebook account tells them that - and more.
Well, in fact, the T&Cs page states that address book contacts will be archived on the company's servers and manipulated to cross-match the data to other users. What it does not do is make explicit that users are, by default, also volunterring themselves to be the subject of such data trawling, manipulation and cross-matching as well.
In Les Miserables Victor Hugo observed; "A shadow is hard to seize by the throat and dash to the ground.” Doesn't mean it shouldn't be tried though.
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