Commentary

Susie Q: An experiment in Facebook privacy

I recently read a Wall Street Journal article that talked about issues with Facebook applications that are giving out users’ personal information to advertisers, tracking companies, and other third parties. According to the article, these applications are violating Facebook rules and regulations and have now been removed. I’ve always noticed that the ads that show up when I’m logged in on Facebook tend to match up quite a bit with the things that I have on my profile. This got me thinking, is it really just these applications that have now been removed that are taking advantage of our personal information?

I decided to do a little experiment. I used one of my old email addresses to create a completely new Facebook account for “Susie Q.” Under the new account, I entered in that I was a student at Ohio State University, along with a few other random pieces of information. I also added my actual account (at Ball State University) as a friend. When I first created the account, all of the ads that were showed were ads about Facebook. Less than 12 hours after creating the account, I logged back on, and each time I refreshed the page or clicked to another page, at least one of the ads had to do with Ohio State. There were even a couple ads related to Ball State. By this point, I’ve come to the general conclusion that somehow, the ads that appear on facebook when I am logged in are in some way connected to the information on my profile, and possibly even my friends profiles.
I looked at Facebook's Privacy Guide in regard to advertisers. This is what Facebook has to say about it:

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We never share your personal information with our advertisers. Facebook's ad targeting is done entirely anonymously. If advertisers select demographic targeting for their ads, Facebook automatically matches those ads to the appropriate audience. Advertisers only receive anonymous data reports.

Okay, so according to Facebook, they don’t give out any of our personal information to advertisers. Instead, advertisers tell Facebook who they want to see that particular ad, and then Facebook makes sure it appears on the correct users’ accounts. This makes me feel a little more at ease about the situation; at least Facebook isn’t selling my information to people. But I’m still a little concerned about what information is being “used against me.” More about “Susie Q.” and other facebook privacy issues is soon to come.

2 comments about "Susie Q: An experiment in Facebook privacy".
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  1. Dean Collins from Cognation Inc, October 25, 2010 at 10:37 a.m.

    You're missing the point - for example my company http://www.LiveChatConcepts.com runs a series of Live sports Chat websites such as http://www.LiveBaseballChat.com and http://www.LiveFootballChat.com etc etc (11 in total)

    We run ads on facebook that are "targeted" at NY Yankees fans for example that say anyone in NY interested in Yankees display this add "Come chat live during the next Yankees game at http://www.LiveBaseballChat.com "

    I dont know you, facebook has never given me your details, i dont know who is or isn't in NY, it's just simply serving up the most relevant advertisement at any one time.

    Cheers,
    Dean

  2. Malcolm Rasala from Real Creatives Worldwide, October 25, 2010 at 10:45 a.m.

    What sweet innocence. So pure. So moronic. How do Facebook users know that Facebook is not selling their private info. Remember Zuckerburg's immortal words 'They trust me dumb fucks'.

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