Facebook: what are your children really signing up for

We all love facebook. It’s the platform that brings friends and family together, helps you keep in touch with old acquaintances and colleagues and also gives you a sense of belonging to a number of communities.

Today, we’ll take a look at the key building blocks that Facebook uses to set out its position on what data it collects, how it processes that data, what the rules of engagement are, and what sorts of data and privacy implications may arise as a result of this, for you and for your children.

You should not let your children use Facebook if they are under 13 years of age.

The sign up process

The sign up page to create an account looks fairly innocuous. It asks you to enter your first name, surname, mobile number or email address, asks you to select a password, requires you to specify your gender and enter your birthday.

The sign up page for Facebook

At first glance, this does indeed look harmless. There’s a few things on this page that might merit a second look. For example, did you notice the statement that says

“It’s free and always will be”

The question to ponder here is how is Facebook monetising all this? If the product/service i.e. Facebook is free and if it will always be free, how exactly are your children paying for the service? The answer to this question can be found under the links on the sign up page – Terms and Data Policy. We’ll cover these in the sections below so you know what to look for when you are reviewing the links yourself.

Key points from Facebook’s Terms, and Data Policy

You can access Facebook’s terms and data policy through the links provided on the sign up page.

Facebook talks about giving people the power to build community and bring the world closer together as its mission statement. It’s hard to believe that that’s what makes people go looking for Facebook. Most of us sign up because it’s now part and parcel of contemporary life and social inclusion, without realising what that convenience costs us.

Common Pitfalls

Pitfall 1: Not understanding the bargain i.e. what are your children giving up to access free services on Facebook?

Pitfall 2: Not understanding how the business model works. Your content and everything you share on Facebook is feeding the marketing, advertising and behavioural profiling machine and it’s a machine that never forgets.

Pitfall 3: Blind faith. Not asking yourself often enough whether there are other alternative ways and more appropriate ways of sharing what you are trying to share.

Pitfall 4: Not reading and understanding the terms, the data policy and other building blocks that Facebook uses to set out its position.


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Highlights from their terms and conditions

Providing you with a personalised service

Nothing wrong with this but please be aware that Facebook collects your data and metadata (metadata is what describes the data). Take a look at this quote.

“We use the data we have – for example, about the connections you make, the choices and settings you select, and what you share and do on and off our Products”

Interesting thing to note is that Facebook combines what you do online both on its website and elsewhere on the internet, where it can track you to learn an awful lot about you.

Connecting you with people and organisations that you care about

Have a read of this quote to see how effective the suggestions feature is and how far it stretches.

“We use the data that we have to make suggestions for you and others – for example, groups to join, events to attend, pages to follow or send a message to, shows to watch and people who you may want to become friends with”

This might be useful if you wanted to sit back and outsource your thinking and decision making to Facebook. However, this can pose a few problems if those Facebook suggestions are based on your activities outside of Facebook’s platform i.e. based on what you do elsewhere on the internet and what Facebook has managed to learn about you and your behaviour, through its cookies and social plugins.

Empowering you to express yourself and communicate about what matters to you

The fundamental question to ask here is whether you need empowering by Facebook to express yourself and communicate about the things that matter to you. You may want to explore what precisely is Facebook’s role in this apart from offering you the scale and reach. Risks to be aware of here are the potential for your expressed thoughts to get recorded and stored in perpetuity, which may bring its own challenges.

For example, people rarely hold on to one set of views, and their views will, more likely than not, change overtime as they go through life and accumulate more life experience. Expressing your views on a platform that records everything and stores everything forever, no matter how empowered you feel, is not such a great idea.

Helping you discover content, products and services

Interesting point to note here is the fact that Facebook’s real customers (not you, the user) are paying them to show you the content they think you should see, based on what they know about you and your behaviour on the internet.

You might want to pay attention to the line that implies that you are not their customer, but rather a test subject who happens to be using their asset (their platform) upon whom they can test ideas, push products, push advertisements, and seek to learn the intricacies of your behaviours exhibited online.

Using and developing advanced technologies

Worth noting here is the fact that no boundaries have been defined for the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Automated technologies that can identify who or what is in a photo or in a video has useful applications but the lack of any defined boundaries as to where this will be used and for what purposes, creates a bit of a risk.

For example, would you be OK with this technology being used to identify your face using automated methods, in a historical group photograph or video with people who you have no real connection with and do not wish to be associated with? The inferences that can be drawn from such automated interventions are not always accurate and have far reaching impact on individuals’ reputation.

Enabling global access to services

Facebook says that to operate a global service, it needs to store and distribute content and data in their data centres and systems around the world, including outside your country of residence. Not sure that this explanation is strong enough to clarify why the data needs to be stored in any data centre across the world. For example, if you live in the UK, why might you want to have your data stored in, let’s say, Malaysia? Who is your data being distributed to?

Permissions

Facebook sets out the permissions it needs from you to provide you with its services. First is the permission to use your content that you create or share. So, when you share, post or upload any content to Facebook, you are giving Facebook a non-exclusive (you still retain ownership), transferable (Facebook can transfer the permissions to someone else), sub-licensable (Facebook can license your photo, your content or anything you share for commercial purposes and make money off of it), royalty free (you won’t get any money if Facebook chooses to use your content for its own purposes), worldwide licence (Facebook is free to take your content and use it in a different place and different context) to host, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform, or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content.

That’s not all. You also give Facebook permission to use your profile photo, your name, and what you do on Facebook, without any compensation to you. This means that Facebook can take unanimous action on your behalf without asking you and share something with your connections/friends that you expressed an interest in. This could be an event or a brand or a person or a business. The fact that you may or may not want to share this information with your friends is pretty much irrelevant.

Highlights from their Data Policy

Facebook claims that it collects all data and metadata related to the content that you choose to upload or share with Facebook. Examples offered on their website include details about when you sign up for an account, details about who you communicate with and how often, location of photos you share or the date the photo was taken, and things that you can see from the use of its products such as their camera.

It does make you wonder why such extensive and incisive capture of your data is necessary to use what seems like an innocuous social network.

Facebook is also interested in the duration of your interactions with others and with its products, your call history from your phone, your contacts from your phone and your SMS text message history from your phone, if you ever decide to sync your phone with Facebook.

This extends beyond what you or your children do online. Facebook is also interested in what your children’s friends choose to share about you and your children.

Unfortunately there is not much you can do to delete this information, without resorting to an arduous process.

Facebook also loves to collect data about your various devices, including your TV, and any neighbouring devices such as your family computer and their identities and IP addresses.

Facebook also knows who your internet service provider is, the language you use on your phone and other devices, and time zone. Social plugins, like buttons and Facebook’s business tools allow other businesses to send data back to Facebook about your device, the websites you visit, and anything you buy.

Facebook recommends that you should carefully consider who you share information on Facebook with, as the audience you may have chosen to share your content with, may in the future choose to share it with other audiences without your consent.

This is a convoluted way of saying that even if you were to ask Facebook to delete your data, they won’t be able to delete posts with your data that others have chosen to publish elsewhere, and that they have no way to control it.

For example, this quote from Facebook’s Data Policy page..

“We are in the process of restricting developers’ data access even further to help prevent abuse.”

..suggests that abusing people’s personal data using automated means is not something that happens once in a while.

Obviously, Facebook’s biggest revenues come from product and service placements, which are promoted by businesses based on what Facebook knows about you.

So, your behavioural trait, your preferences, your likes and dislikes, your immediate and distant network of contacts and friends, your corporate affiliations and the causes you care about, are all available to Facebook to target your attention on things that it wants you focus on.

Gradually, most of your day to day decisions will already have been decided for you by automated means through the use of your data and your web history, whilst giving you the false impression that you are still making those decisions.

What can you do to take control of your data?

The best approach is to be consciously aware of what you are sharing and being absolutely clear about the reasons for doing so i.e. don’t share things that you don’t need to share.

Safe sign-up checklist

Don’t use a profile photo unless you really have to. If you have to, use one that doesn’t give out clues about your address or geographic area

Avoid giving out your phone number if you can help it

Use a separate email address that is not connected to your other day to day activities

Don’t include information on your profile that you don’t strictly need to include

Review your privacy settings on Facebook and keep your data private

Choose a strong password and two factor authentication, so you can sign in only when you type in your password AND enter the security code sent to your mobile via text

Don’t re-use your online account identities, for example, don’t reuse your username from your Google account on Facebook

Don’t share things that you don’t need to share

There are also a few regulatory routes you could pursue, for example the General Data Protection Regulations or GDPR, which all organisations in the EU are now expected to adhere to.

Under GDPR, you have the right to object to any data processing for marketing, for the purposes of pursuing legitimate business interests and also for the purposes of public interest.

You can send Facebook a written request under GDPR to ask it to stop processing your data for all of these purposes and you can even ask Facebook to delete the data it holds about you.


To access your downloads, handouts, posters and quick reference guides, and services, please go to the member benefits page. You also have access to ProParent Technical Support from the member benefits page.


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