Find Out What Facebook Knows About You With This Chrome App

Facebook doesn’t have a great reputation when it comes to keeping your information private. When the company bought the messaging app WhatsApp in 2014, the company promised there wouldn’t be any sharing of private info like phone numbers and profile data between the two; but this year, Facebook started sharing and storing those WhatsApp phone numbers anyway—prompting Germany to issue a regulatory challenge to the practice.

Even seemingly simple practices like allowing users to choose who they share certain profile updates with gets complicated when the company is constantly tweaking its settings, often in the service of making things more and more public. Facebook has, at times, used users’ location data to offer suggestions, though the company quickly said that that was a temporary test feature and no longer in use when the practice was reported in the media.  

Furthermore, most of us don’t know what information we’re giving up when we agree to those long privacy agreements. Thanks to cookies, the social media giant can essentially follow you anywhere you go on the web, whether it’s on the Facebook site or not. So just what does Facebook know about you, and what is it telling other companies about you?

The watchdog reporters at ProPublica want to help you find the answers. They’ve developed a Chrome plugin that allows you to see what information Facebook has about you, from what the company thinks you’ll be interested in to which other companies have your contact information. 

ProPublica’s reporters have spent a year investigating algorithms like those used by Facebook, and here’s how they describe the vast world of how the company creeps on you:

Facebook has a particularly comprehensive set of dossiers on its more than 2 billion members. Every time a Facebook member likes a post, tags a photo, updates their favorite movies in their profile, posts a comment about a politician, or changes their relationship status, Facebook logs it. When they browse the Web, Facebook collects information about pages they visit that contain Facebook sharing buttons. When they use Instagram or WhatsApp on their phone, which are both owned by Facebook, they contribute more data to Facebook’s dossier.

And in case that wasn’t enough, Facebook also buys data about its users’ mortgages, car ownership and shopping habits from some of the biggest commercial data brokers.

Facebook uses all this data to offer marketers a chance to target ads to increasingly specific groups of people. Indeed, we found Facebook offers advertisers more than 1,300 categories for ad targeting — everything from people whose property size is less than .26 acres to households with exactly seven credit cards.

Eek. Isn’t social media fun? According to my results, Facebook knows that Zipcar, The New York Times, and Zillow—whose app I've downloaded on my phone but never created an account with—all have my contact info, because those companies have apparently uploaded a contact list to Facebook with my information in it. It thinks that I will like Farmville. (Please, Facebook, don't make me play Farmville!) I don't tend to "like" that many pages, nor do I put information like where I work on my profile, but the company still knows a startling amount about me, and can predict the movies I want to watch, the music I like to listen to, and how often I travel. 

You can download the Chrome plugin here, and explore the rest of the “black box” series at ProPublica.

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The Queen of Code: Remembering Grace Hopper
By Lynn Gilbert, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Grace Hopper was a computing pioneer. She coined the term "computer bug" after finding a moth stuck inside Harvard's Mark II computer in 1947 (which in turn led to the term "debug," meaning solving problems in computer code). She did the foundational work that led to the COBOL programming language, used in mission-critical computing systems for decades (including today). She worked in World War II using very early computers to help end the war. When she retired from the U.S. Navy at age 79, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the service. Hopper, who was born on this day in 1906, is a hero of computing and a brilliant role model, but not many people know her story.

In this short documentary from FiveThirtyEight, directed by Gillian Jacobs, we learned about Grace Hopper from several biographers, archival photographs, and footage of her speaking in her later years. If you've never heard of Grace Hopper, or you're even vaguely interested in the history of computing or women in computing, this is a must-watch:

Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View

Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.

Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]


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