The massive data gathering practices of Facebook are everything but impressive or unexpected, especially to those aware of the fact that the social media giant is one of the many big data companies that survive on routinely spying on as many users as possible. Still, it’s worth stressing – once again – that most of the data Facebook gathers is voluntarily handed over by users the moment an account is created, who then unwillingly throw away any concerns for privacy. Much like sleeping out in the open, every tiny move is monitored by social media, then gathered and sold for advertising.
However, the recent news of Facebook’s data siphoning seems to have rocked the world, proving that some people are still unaware of this issue as many rush to delete their accounts in protest or pure rage against the deceptive company. But what they don’t know is that deleting an account doesn’t magically wipe all the data that has been gathered over years of daily activity. Instead, it’s a long, sluggish process in which Facebook still comes out on top in the end.
Deactivating an Account
The revelation of Cambridge Analytica divided the billions of Facebook users into different groups. There are those who simply don’t care about the news and continue using the website as before, others who now hate the company but still use the service, and then the rest who immediately explored the settings in the hopes of deleting their accounts to reclaim the little privacy they still have left.
So how can you quit Facebook? There are two distinct ways of doing this – or trying to at least. The first one is through deactivation, something that the social network will happily highlight doesn’t actually delete anything. All the data associated to any given account will remain untouched – such as pictures, friends and interests – despite the fact that other people will be unable to search for or see the deactivated profile listed in their friends list. This is intentional, as if users change their minds and want to reactivate the account, then everything is easily restored. During the period of inactivity this information is still available to Facebook.
Deleting an Account
Facebook makes the option of deleting the account much harder. Unlike the previous option this doesn’t allow for reactivation in the future, which is why the social network allows users to download a backup file of their profile data – especially recommended for long-term users. Additionally, there’s a 14-day ‘reflection’ period during which the deletion request will be automatically removed if Facebook is accessed again. After this period, it will take yet 90 more days for the data to be deleted permanently from backup servers. At this point, the company has already kept user records for three and a half months after they have chosen to separate with the service.
However, some information will always remain, such as messages sent to friends using the mistrustful Messenger, for instance, as this is not stored in user accounts. Also, copies of some materials like log records will remain in databases, too, although according to Facebook these are “disassociated from personal identifiers”. The best that Facebook allows for deleting the activity log history is to let users remove each action listed in their log.
But there’s yet another trick up the company’s sleeve…
As a multimillion dollar corporation, Facebook owns and actively purchases other services, including WhatsApp and Instagram. These apps will keep sharing information with the company even after an account is deleted as they work without necessarily being connected to Facebook. However, they inevitably report and track users’ activity – since their parent company is Facebook, after all – and therefore will still present users with targeted adverts.
Also, there are so-called ‘linked apps’, too, services such as Spotify, TripAdvisor and many others that are not owned by Facebook itself but still allow people to login using a Facebook account, which in turn shares all the data with the company. Obviously, any linked logins will be disabled once the original account is deactivated from the social network, but every login used with Facebook will share any information with it. As such the company will then be aware of users’ music tastes, travel plans and more, and as such display to them the most suitable ads. Therefore, even prior to deleting an account from Facebook it is recommended to remove all the linked apps or, even better, don’t even link them together to begin with and use completely separate accounts instead.
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