The Facebook Pixel
The Facebook pixel is a piece of code that allows you to gather analytics data on your website by having a user’s visit tied to their Facebook profile.
By having this code on your website, Facebook is then allowed to access a cookie already placed in a visitor’s web browser when visiting Facebook itself. Your analytics data then contains all the sorts of “cool” statistics about your visitors to get an idea of what your audience looks like in terms of race, gender, salary estimate, location, interests, purchasing habits, etc.
Not all of this data is available depending on the size of the audience being surveilled.
By having folks introduce the Facebook pixel to their website, Facebook is able to get a picture of the websites you visit, even if you’re not actually on Facebook (as if there’s no cookie already, there will be one placed).
This also includes any sort of social media share sheet widget that the person’s website will have on it.
You may have heard about this recent change in iOS, but up until recently, apps all have had the ability to know what other apps are running in tandem with themselves and some of the on-screen data can be profiled as well, depending on the OS you’re running.
On top of this, if the app you’re using happens to run Facebook ads in their app or use the Facebook SDK to add FB integration, then your in-app activities are also being tracked.
Other people also put information about you on Facebook. They might allow Facebook access to their contacts and that will allow Facebook to see any number of things like your home address, your phone number, your email address, birth date, etc. Anything that the person has put into your contact sheet, Facebook will have.
Other people tag you in photos as well if you’re on Facebook. The location and other metadata can reveal a travel history to Facebook on your behalf.
There’s a number of other ways other people can add your information to Facebook such as connecting third-party apps to their Facebook account and your account ID on this third-party app matching your Facebook account. They get a pretty clear picture on that front for which services or apps that are used.
It’s not just other people feeding your information to Facebook either. There are many companies (a lot of which are big tech) that are more than willing to give up their treasure trove of data on you in exchange for lower Facebook ad fees or even cold hard cash.
It’s then as easy as tying a name or email to whatever other information they get from these third-party companies to help build their profile on you.
For example, Amazon’s Ring app will ping Facebook any time you install or open the app (which is pretty much any time someone will ring your Ring).
Why does this all matter?
You might be thinking that well, you’ve got nothing to hide, and the information I put online isn’t harmful.
Well maybe not, or maybe so. With enough information about your habits and a record of what you’re doing, when, and where you’re doing it, it’s easy for someone to take advantage of that information in some way.
It may be used to psychologically manipulate your spending, it may be used to entice you to buy something you don’t need. More nefariously it could be used to pinpoint where you’ll be at a certain point in time to either attack you or rob your home. Even more nefariously, maybe your unsavoury government wants to silence you and will use whatever data they can get to spin a disgustingly inaccurate but also horrifyingly embarrassing story about you.
Heck, what about using this data to incorrectly correlate a certain type of behaviour with a certain demographic in a public way, as a defense to attack that demographic in some form or other.
Facebook has a LOT of data on you, even if you deleted your profile a while ago. There is very little you can do about that. But, by deleting your Facebook, and the apps, you’re at the very least removing that one source of information available to them.
Is there anything I missed? Send your suggestions and/or feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org.