FACEBOOK’S DIRTY SECRET
“What should i do with my life?”
“How to get over a fear of cheese”
“Why am i so short?”
Who do you turn to when you need answers? In the past religion used to fill this void, but now we worship at the alter of Google. Our prayers have turned to searches. In the words of professor Scott Galloway: “Google is God”.
Google knows your hopes, dreams, fears and frustrations. Perhaps more intimately than your spouse.
Facebook, like the peeping Tom behind the confessional, listens in on nearly everything you ask. That’s as long as you land on one of the 8 million+ sites who have inserted their pixel. Then they get to work, following you, tracking you, profiling you, rubbing their greasy hands together at the thought of making money from your data. To them, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve consented to it, whether you’re aware of it, or even whether you’d like to stop it.
My qualm isn’t necessarily with what’s happening, but rather how it’s happening. I loathe the lack of transparency. The calculated obfuscation. The lack of control that people are given.
So let’s pull away the curtain and shine a light on the Facebook pixel that’s lurking in the shadows. The most powerful pixel on the internet that enables Facebook to cling to you like a tick hidden under your dog’s collar.
It starts as nothing more than a simple, unassuming, line of code:
Millions of websites have this code embedded and this is where the ambiguous, uninformed, and un-consented ruse begins.
A cookie is dropped on you. A little sticky-note that’s stuck to your back. On its own, it says something like [User ID: 0725]. But when Facebook sees it, they make a little note of their own:
When you visit another site, Facebook see that same little sticky note again.
You keep going about your day… browsing the internet, planning your next holiday, or looking at gifts for a friend, or a new job, or a new house, or reading up on that awkward medical condition you’re worried about.
Facebook keeps seeing the cookie on your back as you go and each time they make a new note. Before you know it, all these notes are sitting in Facebook’s office.
But who cares? “User ID 0725” is anonymous, it’s not you, no one knows who it really is… right?
A week passes by, you go home from work and check Facebook to see what your friends have been up to. You login with your email and password, the sticky note is on your back, and now User ID 0725 is you.
You’ve tied this anonymous sticky note to your real identity. And Facebook doesn’t forget. You can remove the note, but Facebook doesn’t care about “User 0725” anymore – they’ve already moved all of that data to their records about you.
This is a cycle. They sit silently and listen, writing note after note until there’s no more space on your back. Only, they always find space and they never lose a note.
They know that you’d like to go to Barcelona, that you’re looking for a career move, that you’re interested in hiking and that you’d like to go to the cinema this weekend.
On top of this, you’ve been speaking to family and friends on Messenger, you’ve been browsing Instagram searching for #barcelona and you’ve been uploading images.
Facebook know you. Who you’re related to, who your closest friends are, what you like to do in your spare time, what you’re interested in and everything you’re not. Which parties you were invited to, which you weren’t.
Facebook are quick to emphasise that they “don’t sell your data”, which is a grubby half truth. In their own words, they sell access to you based on your data. In plain English, they sell you.