The first and easiest measure is to review your privacy and security settings. There is a discreet, downwards-pointing arrow on the right-hand side of your screen. If you click it, you’ll find ‘settings’ towards the bottom of the menu; explore these to ensure that your posts are limited to the audience of your choosing, and remove information that you’d prefer to keep discreet. If you’re paranoid, disable location and web tracking. This is familiar terrain for most Facebook users, barring the very geriatric.
But then: once you’ve found your way to ‘settings’, at the bottom of the list that will appear on the left, you will find a little tab called ‘Ads.’ Click on it. It’s interesting.
It will reveal what some of what Facebook knows about ‘Your interests’, ‘Advertisers you’ve interacted with’, and ‘Your information.’ ‘Your information’ determines the kinds of ads Facebook integrates into your Newsfeed. ‘Your interests’ are premised on some assumptions Facebook has made about you, based on things you’ve ‘liked’ or commented on in the past. You can edit these, and most are comically inaccurate.
But then there’s ‘Advertisers you’ve interacted with’, which, as far as I’m concerned, is the most edifying tier by far. It’s also the creepiest – it allows you to review the advertisers that appear on your feed because Facebook knows you’re on their customer list.
Accordingly, I now know that Facebook knows that I’ve used Uber Eats, and Taxify. It seems to know that I’m a Vodacom customer, and that I have a Netflix account. It also knows that I sometimes buy books on Amazon, and that I have a Clicks club card. My history of eyebrow-mangling at various branches of Sorbet hasn’t eluded it – and it hasn’t forgotten that I once downloaded a mindful breathing app, on impulse, late at night.
Now you’ll understand that there’s a self-sustaining network of information circulating about you: a network that you expand every time you create log-in details, or exchange your email address for a rewards card. Is the violation worth the 2-for-1s?
I’d never noticed it before, but at the bottom of the ‘General Settings’ page, there is a small, hyperlinked offer to ‘Download a copy of your Facebook data.’ If you take it up on its offer, and select ‘Download Archive’, it will ask for verification details and then spend a few minutes compiling a folder, which you’ll find in your downloads. Here’s what you’ll find:
Messages: A long list of exchanges, dating back, in my case, to 2009; chronicling awkward flirtations and confrontations and the slow maturation of my grammar. It’s uncanny, and somehow melancholy, too: I did feel violated, but I also felt nostalgic. I assume your reaction will be different if you’ve been using Facebook to titillate your mistress.
Photos: But you’re probably familiar with this portfolio; vanity elicits regular curation.