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Facebook is NOT a Free Site – We Are Paying With Our Privacy

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You may have heard the expression there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Well, there’s no such thing as free social media either. 

A lot of people think of themselves as Facebook customers. But here’s the catch – if it’s free, you have to realize that you’re paying one way or another. 

The other catch is: not only are you NOT the customer – you’re actually the product. That’s right. Facebook’s real customers are the advertisers. What the advertisers want, and what Facebook is giving them, is your personal information. This is gold for marketing research. 

If you’re a Facebook user (7 out of 10 of us are) you’re probably enjoying a platform that connects you to friends, family, networking groups, and high school reunions. You may find you spend a good portion of your day using Facebook for business as well as recreation.

Unfortunately, around three-quarters of Facebook users were not aware that the site lists their traits and interests for advertisers. Facebook allows its users to find out how the site’s algorithm has categorized their personal traits and interests for advertisers: This information can be accessed via the platform’s “ad preferences” page. But it turns out people are more interested in posting cat memes and catching up with long-lost relatives than checking in on their Facebook settings. 74% of adult Facebook users in the U.S. were not aware that the site collects data about them until they were directed to this page.

It’s a lot easier to turn a blind eye to the dark side of Facebook, or at least it was until Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, came on the scene with some extremely explosive claims in October 2021.

Haugen made certain unpleasant facts abundantly clear, and one of the most damning is that Facebook’s business priorities trump user privacy and safety. 

And to top it off, around the same time as Haugen blew the whistle on Facebook, they experienced an outage and the site was down for six hours, freezing millions of businesses who rely on Facebook’s network rather than their own websites.

So, whether you’ve been aware of these risks all along or you’ve chosen to be blissfully ignorant, it’s never too late to take charge of your privacy and raise your awareness of how to start using Facebook more carefully. These are facts you should know about Facebook and your privacy, and tips to avoid exposing your valuable personal information.  

How does Facebook make money off its users?

Not everyone is on Facebook to see what their high school crush looks like a few decades later. 17% of users in one study cited “following brands or companies” as a reason why they used Facebook. Additionally, 78% of American consumers say they’ve discovered products on Facebook. Research shows that the average Facebook user clicks on 11 ads per month.

That’s a massive amount of eyeballs. Facebook sells your information to advertisers, telling them who to target and when so they can get their product in front of the ideal avatar. People might need to see an ad a few times before they convert, and given that Facebook users check their phone app up to 14 times a day, those advertisers’ messages are slowly but surely getting across.  

How much is Facebook making off you? 

For the average North American monthly active user, or MAU, Facebook made $139.35 in 2019. And those numbers have been increasing the last two years. 

Was your personal data at risk when Facebook crashed?

No more than when Facebook is up and running.

How can you control what pieces of your personal information Facebook is seeing and selling? 

The company has changed a number of settings in recent months. The biggest news is that Facebook shut down its facial recognition features, once the subject of a Consumer Reports investigation, and said it will delete the face scans it created for more than a billion users.

First, if you haven’t visited Facebook’s site to adjust privacy settings, you can take a look at that here

Second, clean up your friends’ list. Accepting a friend request from someone you may not know well can be a scam. Make sure to vet all the unknown profiles and use this rule of thumb: When in doubt, weed them out! 

Third, be sure to read our step-by-step article, How to Manage Privacy Settings on Facebook and Why You Should

As the dust of Facebook’s technical, political, and ethical problems of 2021 is still settling, there’s a lot you need to take into consideration when using this platform. And though Facebook can have its benefits for your business and your recreational purposes, go in with your eyes wide open to make sure your private information does not go public without your permission.  

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