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Ali Padyab
Ali Padyab is a PhD student in Information Systems at Luleå University of Technology. View original picture , opens in new tab/window

What can Facebook know about you?

Published: 25 November 2016

Are you aware of what information Facebook can possibly extract from pictures and statuses that you post? Research from Luleå University of Technology suggests that if you are, you become more careful with what you publish.

The online social network Facebook has more than a billion users worldwide. Users that post information, share information and interact with each other. According to Facebook’s terms of use, the company is allowed to use your data for commercial use, for example to improve and develop services and to customize ads for you.

In the paper Facebook Users Attitudes towards Secondary Use of Personal Information, the PhD student in Information Systems Ali Padyab, presents a study about user attitudes towards privacy issues after exposing users to potential inferences from their own personal information on Facebook. Basically; if you know what Facebook indirectly can find out about you, by going through and mapping your actions on the social network, would that awareness change your attitude?

Disclose information

To find out, the researchers did two studies. One group of Facebook users discussed privacy on a general level. They were also told about a software tool called DataBait, a tool developed within the project USEMP. For example, the tool can analyze pictures you’ve published on Facebook and reveal what the picture’s content says about you – that is, what information can be extracted from the pictures. If you are holding a beer can in many of your pictures, the tool assumes that you are interested in beer. Another group got to actually use the DataBait tool. Afterwards, the two groups’ attitudes were compared.

– Before introducing the tool to the participants, most attitudes were affective. After using the tool, attitudes shifted towards a more cognitive understanding, says Ali Padyab.

– Group number one was less worried than group number two. It is obviously more intrusive when you know what can happen with your information.

Why is it important to consider online privacy when it comes to social media?

– The more data a company has on you, the more power it has. It is an uneven battle between corporations to obtain knowledge of behavioral advertising algorithms for secondary purposes and end users, who are unaware of these practices. More education is required to empower users with more awareness and a balanced view of their information privacy.

What can a Facebook user do to increase its privacy online?

– There is no need to scare people, but be aware and think twice. Once you put something out there – it’s not yours anymore. Also, be aware of what technology can do. We, a small team of researchers, were able to create a tool for extracting information from Facebook data. Then, imagine what a large company with hundreds of computer engineers can do.  

The paper Facebook Users Attitudes towards Secondary Use of Personal Information  has been accepted for the prestigious International Conference on Information Systems 2016 that will be held in Dublin in December. The conference is the most important conference on the topic Information Systems.

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