Facebook turns 11 – what you need to know, and what do your likes say about you?

Facebook updated its privacy settings at the end of January. As Facebook turns 11 today, here’s what you need to know about the new settings and how they could affect you.

Happy birthday Facebook! What’s new for 2015?

First up – if you’ve been on Facebook since January 30, you’ve already accepted the new terms, whether you knew it or not. Simply logging into Facebook automatically counts you as having accepted the new privacy settings.

The major change in the new policy – which is part of Facebook’s ‘Privacy Basics’ update – is that it allows Facebook to harvest user data from any ‘partner website’ that you’ve browsed, as well as Facebook itself. This could be any site that uses Facebook’s advertising platform, Atlas.

Using data to generate tailored advertising is not new within Facebook, but users will now see this kind of personalization follow them further around the web. Partner sites and apps include the majority of mainstream apps.


Facebook emphasizes that it does “not share information that personally identifies you (personally identifiable information is information like name or email address, that can by itself be used to contact you or identifies who you are).”

Facebook does not allow any kind of opt-out of its data collection. But users who want to know exactly what data the social media giant has stored about them can download a report which shows just that, in the General Account Settings area of Facebook’s settings menu.

Facebook’s new advertising policy means that if you’re logged into Facebook on your phone or on your desktop web browser, it will automatically track what sites you visit and what you do when you’re on them – e.g. making purchases – and what you do within apps on your phone. It can use this information to generate targeted advertising.

Facebook is equipped with a tool to allow users to complain about targeted ads – called the Ad Preferences Tool – but you can only complain about specific adverts once you’ve seen them. And it is not possible to prevent Facebook’s ad tracking by using a browser’s ‘Do Not Track’ function.

But what can anyone tell about you from your likes?

Facebook Likes

Meanwhile, researchers have discovered that your Facebook ‘likes’ – even if it’s just stuff like Harry Potter, Taylor Swift or Homeland – can be used to build a detailed personality profile.

With enough ’likes’ to go on, an algorithm created jointly by researchers at Stanford and Cambridge universities can create a personality profile that is capable of assessing you more accurately than your nearest friends or family.

Limiting Facebook ‘likes’ to things with more than 100,000 likes in total (i.e. mainstream TV shows, music and films), the scientists found that more than 25% of people have ‘liked’ more than 250 things.

This level of data is enough for the algorithm to predict a 100-question personality profile more accurately than a family member. With more than 300 ‘likes’ per subject, the algorithm became more accurate than a spouse.

In its own right, the fact that you’ve ‘liked’ Parks and Recreation or The Hunger Games is not a revealing piece of information. But the precise combination of all your ‘likes’ can be built into a detailed and surprisingly specific profile.

David Stillwell, one of the lead researchers, said that not all of the details of the research had been published, but that the service that generated the information was available for companies to purchase, with the caveat that users have to consent to having their Facebook profile data used in this way.

“No-one should have had a prediction made about them without their knowledge,” he added.

The findings pose troubling questions for the way companies and law enforcement agencies could use innocent personal information to build personality profiles which hint at a much more intimate level of knowledge than a ‘like’ for Beyonce should ever yield.

Author , ESET

  • Andy

    People are still using Facebook?

  • Maxamillion Mansionhouse III

    I don’t use FB as I am one of the people they booted for using a ‘Fake name’ on their site. It’s disturbing that they don’t let people use whatever name they want to on a site that’s supposed to for the people to enjoy.

    I’m well aware that it’s not really for the people, but for the advertising companies to bid on the information to make $$$. Anywho…

    If I was to be a person using FB I’d definitely be weary because basically now it sounds like they have gone with tracking EVERY move you make on your cell phone….something I think EVERY person should draw the line at. That level of intrusion into people’s lives is disturbing to say the least.

    I’d be definitely using the app ‘App Ops’ so I could turn off FB’s ability to look at my texts, location etc etc as this app lets you turn off an app’s ability to look at various things in your phone. I highly recommend it.

  • V

    Ooooh, Max, I agree with you that if Facebook is so innocent then why can’t you use any name you want. Before I closed my account at least 4-5 years ago, I used my dog’s name and never got caught, but I’m sure things are worse now. I didn’t like the way they changed my privacy settings and once they made the only photo I put of myself on their site out there for public viewing I got mad! And, why does Facebook make it so hard to “close” your account? They make you “think” it is closed when they really have you in drydock just waiting to reactivate your profile. I had a friend who showed me how to really close the account and I’ll never go back. Facebook reeks of government intervention with their hardcore facial recognition software and when I try to tell people what they are doing they say “well, I have nothing to hide.” Hey, I worked as a Sheriff’s Deputy and a 911 Dispatcher for years so I have nothing to hide. But, I do feel that our privacy is being stolen from us at every corner. I NEVER let anyone take my picture, either, with their cell phones. This is all being done under the façade of the “Patriot Act” and I thought Obama would at least curtail some of the privileges the government had over us, but even if he wanted to, the government henchmen would never let that happen.
    I don’t think “App Opps” will make any difference to Facebook; it might work for now, but they’ll find a work-around, trust me. They have extremely sophisticated software and they are fine-tuning it as I write this. I could go on forever about how much I despise all intrusive software, but Facebook is thee absolute worst I have ever seen and they are probably spying on us whether we have accounts, or not, and it has nothing to do with targeted advertising. People don’t realize what they are giving up by using Facebook.

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