Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Your Facebook Data Can Be Used Against You

It turns out that Facebook keeps a shipload of data about you.  That stands to reason, since Facebook's business model is to snarf up as much data as possible so you can be targeted for ads that Facebook and its real customers (i.e., the advertisers) hope you click on.  And Facebook would want to keep every scrap of data it has about you (subject to your ability to delete it under Facebook's terms and conditions), no matter how old or seemingly trivial it may be because the more Facebook knows, the greater its ability to target you.  So the information it keeps is pretty extensive, including among other things your facial image (kept through its facial recognition software), all contacts in your phone book, all your Facebook friends (including those that were unfriended), location data (as in where you were at a particular time on a particular day), all the videos you watched, your timeline, all photos you uploaded to Facebook, message traffic, and life events (such as your birth date, graduations, marriages, and so on).  (See

But all that information can be used against you.  There are probably quite a few possible ways.  Here are a few.  Let's say you have a job that doesn't require you to show up at the office all the time.  Your employer thinks you haven't been putting in a full 40 hours a week and demands that you download and hand over a copy of your Facebook data, so they can check up on what you've doing during the workweek.  You refuse, saying that would be an outrageous invasion of your privacy.  Your employer then tells you to pursue your career elsewhere.  And if you sue?  Your employer might try to use court rules called "discovery" to get a copy of your Facebook data to prove you were goofing off.

So you lost your job and apply for another.  Your prospective new employer says, "we really like you but we'd like to see a copy of your Facebook data, just as part of our due diligence on job applicants."  You suddenly remember all those videos you watched ten years ago, when you were younger and more impulsive and watched a lot of weird stuff, which you wouldn't want a future employer to know about.  You decline to provide your Facebook data, and all of a sudden the prospective job evaporates.  

So you try again with another potential employer, this time a contractor for the federal government.  But this job requires a security clearance, and you are asked to provide a copy of your Facebook data so the contractor can evaluate whether or not you'd get a clearance.  You then recall those stupid videos that you uploaded in college during Spring Break--you know, the ones in which you and your pals were rip-roaring drunk and . . .  well, the streaking was the least of it.  WTF do you do now?  How do you respond to this request?

Let's say you're involved in a divorce--half of all married people get divorced, so this sadly is a pretty common event.  Your spouse suspects you've cheated and tries to use those court discovery rules to get a copy of your Facebook data to see where you've been and who you were with.  What if your spouse succeeds?  What will he or she find out?

Perhaps you're a stock market aficionado, and want to get as much information about a company as you can.  You have a friend who works at the company and you traded the company's stock very profitably.  A government official investigating whether or not you got illegal inside information could subpoena your Facebook data to see if you met with or communicated with your friend who works at the company at a time when your friend might have tipped you off.

Let's assume you've been lucky in life and make a gratifying income.   But you find the demands of the IRS insufferable.  So you take a flight to Panama or some other place that has banking secrecy laws you think might keep the Feds at bay.  The IRS gets nosy and subpoenas your Facebook data.  Would they find out you were in Panama or some other place not mentioned in your tax returns?

There are some people who have lived entirely blameless lives--they hewed to the straight and narrow, never told a lie, never smoked, drank, or took illegal drugs, never had dinner alone with anyone other than their spouses, always helped old ladies across the street, and never said a cuss word.   All three of these people have nothing to worry about.  As for the rest of us, that vast pool of data Facebook may have on you is something to bear in mind.  It ain't going nowhere, and you'll have to live with its consequences.

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