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Sunday Mornings with Rania: The Peering Eyes of Facebook Are Shocking

Rania Mankarious
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Rania Mankarious

Rania Mankarious is executive director of Crime Stoppers of Houston(Photo: lawellphoto.com)

If you’re older than 30, you’re more than likely an active Facebook user. We are a unique group that photographs everything, shares everything, checks in everywhere and tags ourselves daily as we chronicle work, food, life, travel, hobbies and family.

But in doing this, have we ever stopped to really question what the corporate world of Facebook is doing with the information it’s capturing? More specifically, what information are they capturing exactly?

Shockingly, a lot. So much so that this past week, Facebook creator and CEO, 33-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, was called before a congressional panel in Washington, DC to discuss this very issue as well as the Cambridge Analytical scandal, which included the illegal collection and sale of personal information for over 87 million Facebook users. The breach is another incident in a growing recognition that the world of social media is wonderful yet layered with a growing number of significant privacy concerns. (To learn if your personal information was amongst the information stolen, click here.)

Navigating through Zuckerberg’s “I don’t knows” and the “we made mistakes,” here’s what we learned: 

  • In 2011, the federal government charged Facebook (which later admitted) for making deceptive privacy claims that were unfair and violated federal law. Specifically, the Federal Trade Commission said while Facebook told users their information would be kept private, they repeatedly made it public and allowed it to be shared.
  • Until now, expansive user data is collected and placed into roughly 29,000 categories by which Facebook divides your interests and then sells your information over and over to ultra targeted advertisers.
  • Inherent within these categories is information regarding your personal income level, range of things you have liked, groups you’ve joined, places you’ve traveled, purchases you’ve made, hobbies you’ve shared and more.

But here’s what else I learned, Facebook loves it when you take a selfie. Here’s why:

  • When you take a selfie, Facebook’s facial recognition features will pick you up as well as where you are, who you are with, and any caption and/or tagged people and places registered to the photo and post.
  • Additionally, Facebook records where you took the photo, the kind of phone you used to take the photo, the device ID that is unique to that very phone and what mobile provider you use. WHAT?
  • Once you upload your photo (i.e., post it), Facebook will tap into any nearby Wi-Fi spots or cell towers, mapping where you are, essentially, one selfie at a time.  
  • Through this information, Facebook is tracking where you are as well as anyone else appearing in your picture. Additionally, I’d like to know how long that information is retained by Facebook (or Instagram) after your account has been deleted or suspended?

What You Need to Do Now – Turn off geotagging!

  • For an iPhone user, go to SETTINGS < PRIVACY < LOCATION SERVICES < Select “Camera” < Tap on “NEVER”.  
  • For an Android user, Open the Camera app < Tap on "Settings" < Scroll until you see the option for "Save location" (might be at the top) and disable it.

With all this recording of information and the sharing and selling of it, it’s no wonder that there is growing concern over the use of this social media platform. A recent study has just revealed that Facebook has lost nearly 10 percent of its users with an additional 35 percent choosing to reduce their use of the platform. 

It’s one thing to purposefully post a photo, quote, article or more in hopes of sharing with friends or engaging in a universal conversation. It’s quite another thing to have Facebook go behind a post and extract personal information we had no intention of sharing (and then use or sell that information) simply because their technology makes it possible. 

I am an avid Facebook user. I use it to share my work and enjoy following the work and photos of so many I know and love. It’s a powerful tool that I appreciate. That said, the privacy concerns both known and unknown are truly concerning. I continue to advise others to be extremely careful when posting from home and to be overly careful when posting anything involving minors. And as much as we are learning, I am reminded of the many “I don’t knows” and “we made mistakes” coming from Zuckerberg’s mouth this past week. While he is trying to figure it out, join me in being intentional and careful with every click, like, share and post. The tool’s a great one - let’s use it wisely!

For more information on Crime Stoppers of Houston, go to crime-stoppers.org and follow Crime Stoppers on Facebook. Have topics in mind that you’d like Rania to write about? Email her directly at rmankarious@crime-stoppers.org. Connect with Rania on Instagram and Twitter. Read past Sundays with Rania posts here.

Editor's Note: Views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Buzz Magazines.

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