Before you continue reading, you must first understand I am not a left-wing nuthead waving my fist and raving against Facebook because I am some privacy evangelist who believes in some government-technology conspiracy to lay their dirty fingers all over our insignificant conversations. Not at all. If you are one yourself, please leave now.
I have always loved Facebook. I am not an active user, but it has been so useful in helping me to keep track of the lives of my friends and family all over the world. Without Facebook, I would not have been able to remember their birthdays, congratulate them when they have a baby, see their holiday pictures or know they are safe.
I am increasingly using Facebook to read articles (something which they are promoting) simply because someone in my inner circle reads them. It helps me to keep up with their development and growth, being miles and miles away from them.
Professionally, I am a digital strategist. I use Facebook for my clients for both their communications and marketing needs, so it is a great social media platform that occupies the leading space in the world.
However, I have to come notice something nasty that I cannot tolerate from Facebook: friend recommendations.
I have always kept my professional life and my private life COMPLETELY apart. This is a personal choice I still want to be able to make. I do not mind Facebook snooping around to collect data about my shopping or reading habits. But I do mind Facebook blurring that division between my work and my family without my consent.
You may say: You just have to accept your colleagues into Facebook and put them into a different group so they won’t see a thing.
Fair enough. But that is a choice that I want to make MYSELF, not made for me by Facebook.
On top of that, the following will demonstrate how Facebook, by blurring that division, put me in a vulnerable position, such that it may even have endangered my life.
How does Facebook recommend Friends?
1. Friends of friends
Alex popped up as a recommendation. He’s the uncle of a family member, plus he shares 8 mutual friends with me. It makes sense that Facebook recommends him to me because of our mutual network.
Likewise, Ann was recommended. I have seen Ann several times at family functions. She shares 9 mutual friends with me, so I don’t think it is strange that Facebook sees her as a potential part of my circle.
Bear in mind, I do not have either the email address or mobile phone numbers of both.
2. My Gmail Contacts
When Chan popped up, this is when things started to seem weird. I am NOT connected to Chan in any sort of way. In fact, I do not know him at all, and we do not share any friends. There is no way Facebook could have recommended him to me as part of my network. The only reason why it has done that is because it has looked through my contacts in my Gmail.
Chan shares the exact same name as my Professor back in university. I do have my Professor’s email address stored in my Gmail contact as well as his full name. But as far as I know, my Professor does NOT have a Facebook page.
What Facebook has done was to have crawled through my Gmail contact list – WITHOUT MY EXPLICIT OR IMPLICIT CONSENT – to pick out the names of people I may know. That, for me, is a grave violation of my privacy.
3. My Email Correspondances
Luc was my banker. I have only had a few email exchanges with him. Apart from that, I have NOT stored his email address in my contact list and I do not have his mobile phone number (except his general office number). To see him pop up, only showed Facebook went through my emails.
Likewise, Philippe showed up as a recommended friend. I was very shocked. I met Philippe at a professional networking function. I connected with him on Linkedin – through which he contacted me to my professional email address, which is NOT the email address that I use for Facebook.
This is where it got pretty scary.
Not only did Facebook crawled through my contact list, it also went through my email correspondences. I can only imagine it did that repeatedly because it would otherwise be impossible to know who I conversed with recently. Why? Because I have installed the Facebook app on my phone, together with Gmail and other email apps. I have rarely used the Facebook web interface nowadays, there is no way Facebook gained access to my PC’s email client at all.
On top of that, it went through BOTH my email accounts – one for my friends and family, the other for my professional correspondences – which are on my email apps. All this, despite the fact that I have ONLY used the private one to sign on Facebook.
For Facebook to go through my private emails on my phone – WITHOUT MY EXPLICIT OR IMPLICIT CONSENT – is very sickening.
Not only was this a violation of MY privacy, it was also a violation of Luc and Philippe’s privacy. They have only had a professional engagement with me. I am sure, they do not want to add me on their Facebook, or even see themselves pop up as recommended friends because of their email correspondences with their clients or colleagues!
4. My Phone List
Bart was my massage therapist. I owe my loosened joints to him and I should probably go back to him about my laptop-induced hunchback. What was REALLY strange about Bart popping up as a recommendation, is that I do not have Bart’s email address. His clinic was located in the previous city where I was living and I have not contacted him for ages.
My only connection with him was his mobile number.
Same thing with Christophe. I met Christophe at the gym. He is a VERY private person – despite us seeing each other quite often, he refused to give me his email address or connect with me on Facebook. He said he preferred us using SMS should we plan to go to the gym together now and then.
But there it is: Christophe’s Facebook account right in front of me. This was not what Christophe had wanted, I am sure. He could also reject my request for connection, of course. But Facebook, without his or my consent, tried to connect both of us, was outrightly violating both of our privacy.
The only way Facebook could have done this, was to have gone through the phone number stored on my phone and match it with profiles with those phone numbers. That, for me, is wrong.
5. My Phone Record, Banned List or Whatsapp List
There are several people whom I DO NOT WANT TO SEE OR HEAR FROM EVER AGAIN.
You too, I am sure: ex-wife, ex-boss, ex-colleague, that persistant salesman or that creepy stalker.
Kathleen was someone with whom I had a business dealing. She was a bit too pushy for me. When someone is that pushy, I tend NOT to want to do any business with them. She did call several times but I stopped picking up. In the end, I put her on the banned list on my phone, so that she won’t be able to call me anymore. Good riddance.
Same thing with Sam. Sam was a stalker. I don’t know what he wanted from me, he got hold of my mobile number and he started stalking me for a week using SMS, Whatsapp and he also tried WeChat. It got me so annoyed, I put his number on the banned list, not only on my phone, but also on my Whatsapp and WeChat. Thank goodness he didn’t have my email address.
But lo and behold: Facebook showed both Kathleen and Sam as potential ‘friends’.
How on earth could Facebook be so dumb as to go through my phone’s banned list and match me with the people who could potentially harm me?!
Bear in mind, if Facebook makes them show up on my recommendations’ list, it WILL show ME on THEIR list.
There are a million and one reasons this should not happen. Most worrying of all, this can potentially put my or someone else’s life in danger.
This is the Number ONE reason why Facebook should STOP its invasion of my privacy and that of its users by using its app to probe into our phone and email records. Even if it does – on the noblest grounds of combating terrorism which I completely support – it should NOT use these records to put ME in danger, which it is doing right now!
What you should do to stop Facebook’s invasion of your privacy
For me, it is probably too late but there are things that you can do to prevent Facebook probing into your life, based on my observations above:
1. Do not put personal details on Facebook
Don’t put where you live, where you work, where you have studied, how old you are on Facebook. No one needs to know all these details and shame on them if your friends don’t already know.
2. Do not put your relationships on Facebook
Facebook does not need to know who you’re married to, who is your mother-in-law or that distant cousin from Canada. Keep that to yourselves. Just connecting with them is enough.
3. Do not put your profile picture on Facebook
Why give Facebook the chance to match you with your worst human nightmares? Thank goodness if you have a common name because there are 2 million other John Smiths out there, you really don’t need to help that stalker identify your profile by putting your face on it.
4. Do not put your email addresses on Facebook and do not allow Facebook to access your emails or contact list
You need an email address to sign up to Facebook. Make sure the password of both are different. Facebook will keep suggesting that you allow it to access your email to match you with your contacts and that it will only do it once and will not keep a record. Bullshit. Never allow that to happen. Ever.
5. Do not put your mobile phone number on Facebook
This is a tricky one. I don’t think NOT giving Facebook your mobile number will help, but do not give it anyways.
Reason: I have two mobile numbers. The one I put on Facebook was my Asian number, while the one I use in Europe is my European one.
The above experiences showed that while Facebook did not have access to my European phone number, it somehow managed to get hold of those people who had it and made them show up on my recommendations list – simply by going through my phone records and banned list.
Whatever Facebook is doing, it should stop doing it RIGHT NOW.
The EU Data Protection Reform
On 15 December 2015, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament finally agreed on a new set of data protection rules to replace those made in 1995.
Member states have 2 years to implement those rules within the official announcement in early 2016.
The reform will include:
- Easy access to your own data
- Right to transfer your data between different providers
- Right to be forgotten
- Right to know when your data has been hacked
- No more ‘fine print privacy agreement’ (it’s up to the company to make you understand the agreement not to confuse you into it)
- One set of rules for the whole of EU
- European rules on European soil
Companies can be hit with fines of up to four percent of their global turnover if they don’t comply with the rules.
Hopefully, Facebook will stop snooping around my email and phone records and put me in a vulnerable position ever again!