Facebook has launched a tool to let users see what data is collected by other organisations, and then shared with Facebook. I used it earlier this week, and it was jaw dropping.
To set the scene, I don’t have a problem with the Internet giants using my data. They provide amazing services in return for me sharing data with them. For example, I can search almost the whole of the Internet on Google, and chat, share images and status updates with anyone on Facebook apps (including Instagram and WhatsApp). Google and Facebook, among several other companies, don’t charge any more than me sharing data with them. I can accept that. It felt like a great deal for both of us.
The Facebook tool lists all the providers of information (aka business and organisations) that collect data about an individual, and then share it with Facebook. Facebook then categorises the data, which ranges from difficult to understand to super-clear.
The categories range from CUSTOM (whatever that means) to VIEW_CONTENT (what does that mean?) to ADD_TO_CART (I know what that means), ACTIVATE_APP (I assume, opening an app) and even PURCHASE.
The reason why third party (non-Facebook) companies provide this information is to tailor their ads. For example, if Company A wants to advertise to Bob on Facebook, they can let Facebook know about Bob’s interactions to personalise the ads. They might want to show discounts if Bob adds products to his shopping cart but doesn’t make the purchase, or they might want to stop advertising to Bob if he makes a purchase.
But my surprise was in the companies that share data:
- Two of my retail banks (current accounts) both provide data (one is a classic High Street bank* and one is a new online-only challenger bank)
- Our family location tracking app
- All of my fitness apps
- All of our home media (TV and digital streaming services)
- My share dealing platform(!!!)
- The home delivery service we use
- Several airlines that I’ve used for recent flights
- Almost every online retailer I remember using in the last six months
* I’ve worked with this bank in a professional capacity and they are notoriously difficult enough to sign a contract with. I cannot imagine how they had the conversation with Facebook to hand over user data.
There were 612 companies that provided data to Facebook since July 2019.
Facebook simply lists the companies on its website. To see more detail (such as what information was shared), you can download a report. Beware that the report needed some HTML crafting to get it to work.
I checked my advertising history, and I’ve only clicked on 4 ads in Facebook.
The tool is available at: https://www.facebook.com/off_facebook_activity/
I commend Facebook for making the information transparent. It’s the right thing to do. I’ve always said that I’d prefer to see adverts that are relevant to me (you can never own too many bicycles), than blanket ads of tampons and washing powder.
But for my bank account, share trading platform and so on… they don’t need to share my data.