What Facebook knows about me | Rosemary O’Hara

Even before I saw the information Facebook collected on me — and made accessible to a political firm hired by President Trump’s election campaign — I’d given up any expectation of privacy.

For the sake of convenience or curiosity, I’ve submitted my thumbprint and DNA sample in recent years, along with my mother’s maiden name, my father’s birthdate, my first car, my last address and the name of my best friend in kindergarten.

But after downloading my Facebook archive of every click, like and post made since 2008, I’ve got to set the record straight.

I’m certain I never joined groups called Modeling to Bodybuilding, “The pith helmet u can buy” or Ramblewood Ramblewoods.


I’m also certain that given my aging arms, I’ve never clicked an ad called “Wear sleeveless looks year round!”

And as far as clothing, Facebook is way off in linking me to just one retailer: Nordstrom. Some weekends, the only weights these arms lift are shopping bags from the Galleria or Sawgrass Mills.

It appears, though, that I never took that pop-up personality quiz developed by Cambridge Analytica — the data firm hired by the Trump campaign — to build psychological profiles on some 230 million Americans with hopes of influencing their behavior in the voting booth.

In a recent Facebook post, CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained how the data breach happened. When the social media network started in 2007, it wanted to help developers make their apps social. “Your calendar should be able to show your friends’ birthdays, your maps should show where your friends live, and your address book should show their pictures.” So the company created a way for people to log into apps using Facebook, which meant sharing information about their contacts.

In 2013, a researcher named Aleksandr Kogan created a personality quiz installed by about 300,000 people, who shared their data as well as some of their friends’ data. With it, he accessed tens of millions of friends’ data, Zuckerberg said. And in 2015 — in violation of Facebook’s policy — the data was shared with Cambridge Analytica, where Steve Bannon was vice president before stepping down to run the Trump campaign.

Today, Facebook is scrambling to recover, having lost almost $100 billion in market value in recent weeks.

As part of that recovery, it’s made it easy for people to discover the data it has collected on us. (Go to Facebook settings, click “Download a copy of your Facebook data.”)

When I accessed my archive Monday, I saw a shockingly long list of everything I’ve said or done, ads I’ve clicked, messages I’ve sent, and groups I’ve joined (or that signed me up.) As another friend shared, “Now I can really see how much time I have wasted.”

I confess to having turned a blind eye to what I knew was happening behind the screen. As the cost of using its network, I knew Facebook was collecting data about me for advertising or other business purposes.

But I didn’t realize that from my contacts list, it would grab the phone number of everyone I know. Some of those numbers aren’t meant for broadcasting. Yet there they are, in that Big Brother database in the sky.

And while birthdays on Facebook make me feel like Queen for a Day, I thought I had held back the year of my birth. Yet there it was, along with my wedding date and the name of my previous spouse.

I started to delete the apps I’ve accessed via Facebook, only to discover that doing so would delete those accounts. Facebook promises a tool later this month that will make it easy to revoke permissions to your data. But what’s out there is out there.

On Vox on Monday, Ezra Klein wrote that when Zuckerberg founded Facebook, he wanted to make the world more open and connected, assuming a more open and connected world would be a better thing.

“That assumption has been sorely tested over the past year,” Klein wrote. “As we’ve seen, a more open world can make it easier for governments to undermine each other’s elections from afar; a more connected world can make it easier to spread hatred and incite violence.”

A more open and connected world has also poked holes in our expectations of privacy.

Because of advances in technology and the fallout from 9/11, we’re now surrounded by license tag readers, facial-recognition surveillance cameras, red light monitors, websites that track your movements, products that track your car, retailers that collect and share your buying habits and surveillance laws that make it easier for government to spy on everyday Americans.

Most of us have nothing to hide and accept the loss of privacy in the name of security. But the Facebook data breach forces us to recognize the slippery slope we face with our information being used in nefarious ways.

One final observation about my Facebook archive. A tremendous number of people have been poking me. I don’t even know most of these people. And if poking is how they roll, I’m not sure I want to.

Reach Sun Sentinel Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara at or on Twitter @RosemaryOhara14.

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