Blurred Lines: Social Media Data Mining

“They are not being honest. Facebook is bundling a dozen different data companies to target an individual customer, and an individual should have access to that bundle as well.”  – Center for Digital Democracy

It is no secret that third parties such as credit card companies and the government use social media networks such as Facebook to gather sensitive data about you.  When questioned recently about the non-transparency of their data collection practices Facebook went on record to say that “users can discern the use of third party data if they know where to look.”

The questions that we have to ask here are few, but important:

  • How is my data collected?
  • Who gets access to my data?
  •  How is this data used?

How is your data collected?


Simple. Through the content that you share, the pages you “like” the news items that you care about. Seemingly mundane, the many adverts that appear on social media networks, have been found out to be actual backdoors that are “data brokers” who do the job of mining your data.

Facebook is the leading source of data collection which collects 63 different items of data through your shared content and likes.

Google +, Twitter. LinkedIn and Pinterest use a combination of your search items, tweets, connections and pinned images to gather significant data about you, that will directly relate to your offline life.

Who gets access to your data?

So where does all these collected data go? Who accesses them?

Mostly, it is the government, law enforcement authorities and third parties such as financial institutions, banks, credit card and insurance companies, litigation lawyers, recruiters, employers and even universities can obtain access to this data. Anytime that you are on a site with ads, it is possible, that you are being tracked. The data that is available could be made into shadow profiles, which suggest a considerable amount of data into your life outside of social networking.

How is this data used?

When it comes to governments, it is claimed that the data is being tracked in order to monitor any terrorism or other harmful activity such as drug trafficking, illegal activities, suicides and the like.

Facebook stated that there is a non-disclosure involved in the process where they are unable to notify the user, in the event that their profile is flagged by the law enforcement authorities. But they went on to say that they refrain from offering “direct backdoors” to the government into user data and that they do not provide information for requests which they consider are “overly broad or deficient”.

When it comes to third parties, it has been speculated that organisations such as credit card companies use your data to determine your category of income and the interest rates that would pertain to you, as well as determine and market various offers, products and services that would be of interest to you.

social-networkWhat Can I do About This?

Not an ideal outcome, but nothing can really be done to avoid the collection of your data completely. However, there are methods in which you could minimise the outflow of private information.

  •  Go through the data policies of your social media networks and understand them. Facebook’s data policy updated on 29th September 2016, gives some insight into their data collection practices and how you can contact Facebook data controlling for assistance.
  • Adjust your privacy settings so that not everything you put out there can be seen by everybody.
  • Refrain from adding or connecting with parties which are unknown to you.
  •  Be vigilant all around. Project a positive image out and keep your online expression intelligent.

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