Facebook: What It Knows About You and How It Tracks You


Stylized Facebook logoFacebook is very good at collecting data about people, whether you have a Facebook account or not. They are also able to track you across the internet. Here's some options to limit Facebook tracking and collecting data.

When you're on Facebook, everything you do is monitored and recorded and stored somewhere. This includes private messages and URL's shared through Messenger. This allows them to amass a tremendous amount of data about anyone who has a Facebook account. In addition, Facebook compiles detailed dossiers on users, including user data they obtain from commercial data brokers.

One of the ways Facebook compiles information about users is the use of data points. Exactly how many data points Facebook uses remains an unknown and guesses range in number from 98 to 29,000, most of which are gleaned from the targeting options for Facebook advertisers.

You can see 98 of the data points at this site as a graph:
All the Ways Facebook Can Track You (I would urge anyone interested in privacy to read this. It's clear, well written, and not terribly long or technical)
Here's the list broken down into categories:
98 personal data points that Facebook uses to target ads to you

Among the list you'll find items like education level, location, anniversaries, hometown, property ownership information, employer, style and brand of vehicle you drive and what year it was purchased, whether you've donated to a charity, and much more.
You don't have to be on Facebook for them to compile information, Facebook collects data on non-Facebook users from those who use the service. These are called shadow profiles (which, to be clear, Facebook denies exist, but there is information that indicates otherwise going back some years.

Many people say their personal data isn't very important. What's missing from that is what Facebook does with all this data in aggregate, not individually. They collect granular data about each user, sort that data into demographic categories, and combine it with data acquired from other sources (commercial data brokers). They sell this data to advertisers, who are able to create their own demographic categories using the data Facebook has provided. Those advertisers can then create ads and other material tailored to you, delivered directly to you.

Facebook has a page that lists all the commercial data brokers they work with around the world. They provide opt out information for each broker, but it isn't easy to opt out of most of those services. Some require a written request, along with a copy of government-issued identification, sent via postal service in your country, before they'll remove your personal information. And since much of that information is gathered from publicly available services, there's no guarantee it won't reappear at some point.
(A journalist tried to opt out of all the commercial data brokers and was unsuccessful).

Facebook tracks where you go around the internet primarily through the "Like" and "Share" button on websites (when you're logged in) and through the "Facebook analytics pixel" on cooperating websites. It can track what you buy offline through what it calls "offline conversations" that partner with payment providers and retailer loyalty programs. You can read more here: How Facebook tracks your every move: Fact vs. fiction.

So, what can you do to limit Facebook tracking you across the internet?
Browser extensions are a good place to start.

Disconnect is my personal favorite, it works with Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera.

Ghostery is another good choice, it works with Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer.

If tracking isn't an issue for you and you want to clean up your Facebook page and see only what you want to see, Facebook Purity let's you control what Facebook displays on your timeline - it can hide sponsored posts and stories, trending topics, hide the chat interface, disable autoplay videos, alert you when friend statuses change, and more.

If you're technically inclined you can block tracking using the Hosts file on a PC (because there's no place like <g>).

If you use a browser extension or add-on, it would be great if you would whitelist sites you like or find helpful. Sites like Gizmo's Freeware rely on advertising to keep the lights on and everything up and running. We're all volunteers here and whitelisting sites like ours will ensure we can keep doing what we're doing.

There are few options to limit the amount of information Facebook collects other than logging out of Facebook when you're not engaged, limiting the permissions from third party apps and managing your ad preferences

I'm not saying using Facebook is a good thing or bad thing - it provides a lot of value to many people. In some places in the world it's the only internet access people have. Other people don't like it and will never use it. All those are valid. My point is that Facebook is there, and this is how it works. This is what you can do to limit the amount of data it collects on your activities, if that's something that you'd like to do.

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Sadly, those of us who do not have FB account are also tracked and the only way to see what FB has collected on us is to Sign Up for FB. They get you coming and going. Have no social site accounts and am doing very well without them. Also have Ghostery and love it. You can pick and choose who tracks you for the most part, including FB Connect, which I have found is really not an Essential as sites say it is. Do not forget that Amazon and Google also have their hooks into us...

The shadow profiles that Facebook maintains on people who don't have a Facebook account are troubling.
Ghostery is good - I use Disconnect because I have a years long history with Ghostery of pages not loading or functioning properly when it's installed. Most people don't have any issues with it.
I haven't had any issues with pages using Disconnect over period of few years and across all browsers so I stick with it.

I'm aware that both Google and Amazon collect a lot of user data. Google in particular amasses a large amount of data on users. To date I haven't seen either of them handle user data the same way that Facebook does (Cambridge Analytica, for example). Whether it's because they handle their data differently, or they don't and it hasn't come to light so far, I don't know.


Thanx rhiannon for the info...Will check out Disconnect and keep it in mind in case I start having problems with Ghostery. Another one to watch is Microsoft gathering info, even if you check all the Do Not Track boxes. The big corporations are just sneakier in their tracking and info gathering. For example, I never use Internet Explorer anymore, yet when I clean my machine each day IE shows a full cache. Seems MS has other ways to track us. Google is everywhere and Amazon is trying to surpass the big G.

Microsoft has gathered data via telemetry for many years. If you want to block it, Blackbird works for Windows 10 / 8 / 7 / Vista, and O&O ShutUp10 works in Windows 10.

I don't use IE or Edge either - limited tab functions, few add-ons/extensions. Meh.

Have Win7 and find myself using the Avast Secure browser for any financial stuff and do like it. Also save no passwords or form fillers on that browser...have LastPass (got from Gizmo's) Also have been trying out Cliqz and that seems good for privacy. Waterfox (also from Gizmo's) has been working for any game downloads, but do have to remember to clear history since CCleaner hasn't yet included it. Haven't heard about Blackbird though...so much software and so little time...

I'll take a look at Cliqz, looks interesting.
Since Waterfox forked off Firefox when Mozilla started using WebExtensions API for it's add-ons, Waterfox and Firefox quit using the same profile folder. CCleaner doesn't "see" Waterfox.
Click&Clean is a good add-on for Waterfox, it let's you selectively clear out browser history, cookies, cache, etc or clear everything all at once.

Completely agree, so much software, so little time........... :)


I understand your gist and i apologize if many of Corbett's videos simply state that he does not use Facebook.
Do however appreciate (among other things) his suggesting alternatives to FB.
It's just unreal on how much of who and what we are is being increasingly fed to AI.

No need for any apologies. :)
Alternatives are a good thing. What works for one person doesn't work for another.

AI. Oy. :)

Have deleted Facebook last year with no regret.
See James Corbett for more reasons why Facebook is a nasty friend:

p.s. noticed F icon still on your profile rhiannon...

I hadn't seen the Corbett Report before, thanks for the link.

I'm not sure what you mean by a FB icon on my profile - we have buttons on the site for RSS, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

I do have a Facebook account, it was created because I'm the person who adds content to our Gizmo's Freeware Facebook page. That FB account doesn't contain accurate personal data about me, and I don't post on that timeline.
Strictly personal preference. I'm not active on social media - not because I approve or disapprove of it, more because I have nothing to say.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯