News & Politics

Facebook Caught Harvesting Data from People Not on Facebook

A mural in an office on the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

In past articles that I’ve written here, I’ve described how Facebook collects and shares information. Many have responded with such comments as, “serves people right for using Facebook,” or, “that can’t happen to me, because I don’t use Facebook.”

Well, I have bad news for those of you who are not Facebook members. It’s likely Facebook is selling your personal information as well, and that information is being used to target you with ads.

As reported in Gizmodo on Wednesday, Facebook has been caught once more doing something it had earlier denied and that few have been aware of.

The company has been found to be using the address books and contacts its users have provided to Facebook. Why would users give Facebook access to their contacts? Because Facebook incessantly nags its users to share their address book to help them make contact with their friends.  They are never told that this information will be used for other purposes or be sold, nor are those in the address books ever informed.

Gizmodo calls this “shadow contact information.”

If you are in the address book of any Facebook member, it’s likely Facebook has your personal information and is selling this data to advertisers who then use that information to market to you. Of course, we don’t know what else Facebook may be doing with your information, but based on past events, you have to assume they are finding new ways to monetize it.

According to Gizmodo, “Facebook is not upfront about this practice. In fact, when I asked its PR team last year whether it was using shadow contact information for ads, they denied it. Luckily for those of us obsessed with the uncannily accurate nature of ads on Facebook platforms, a group of academic researchers decided to do a deep dive into how Facebook custom audiences work to find out how users’ phone numbers and email addresses get sucked into the advertising ecosystem.”

“Giridhari Venkatadri, Piotr Sapiezynski, and Alan Mislove of Northeastern University, along with Elena Lucherini of Princeton University, did a series of tests that involved handing contact information over to Facebook for a group of test accounts in different ways and then seeing whether that information could be used by an advertiser,” they explained.

The results proved that the test subjects received ads, even though they were not Facebook members. Their contact information was submitted as part of a member’s contact list.

The researchers asked a Facebook spokesperson about there findings and she responded, “We use the information people provide to offer a more personalized experience, including showing more relevant ads.”

Which, of course, is a non-answer.