Why you should read the Terms of Service and Privacy Policies (with tips to increase privacy)

Facebook has recently made the news with news outlets reporting on the court case of Whalen v. Facebook, 20-civ-03346, Superior Court of California (Redwood City).1 2. This lawsuit alleges that Instagram illegally collects, or collected biometric data through their facial recognition system. The alleged illegality in the lawsuit is specific to the state of Illinois in the US. Bloomberg reports that Facebook company spokesperson Stephanie Otway gave a statement that “Instagram doesn’t use face recognition technology” 1. While this statement may be technically true (that Instagram doesn’t directly use face recognition), Instagram is clearly listed as a Facebook Product. At least within the EU, Instagram abides by Facebook’s Data Policy and face recognition is included in this Data Policy. So if you use any “Facebook Product” be aware that they all fall under Facebook’s Data Policy. The following are “Facebook Products” I have been able to source 3:

Websites

  • Internet.org
    • Aims to provide free internet to less fortunate areas of the world

    Sites currently covered with the Free Basics include:

    • AccuWeather
    • BabyCenter & MAMA
    • BBC News
    • Dictionary.com
    • ESPN
    • Facebook
    • UNICEF

While the idea behind this initiative appear altruistic, I can’t help but wonder whether Facebook will (or already do) use this to pivot to selling services to the regions where Free Basic operates - maybe I’m just a cynic.

Android Apps

  • Facebook mobile app (which includes the in-app browser), as well as the following apps (listed in alphabetical order) 4
    • Creator Studio
    • Discover
    • Facebook Ads Manager
    • Facebook Analytics
    • Facebook Gaming
    • Facebook Lite
    • Facebook Local
    • Facebook Pages Manager
    • Facebook Viewpoints
    • Free Basics *
    • Messenger
    • Messenger Kids *
    • Messenger Lite
    • Origami Live
    • Portal
    • Spark AR Player
    • Study
    • Workplace *
    • Workplace Chat

Entries marked with an * have their own privacy policy and terms of service 5 6 7 8

  • Instagram, which also include (in alphabetical order) 9:
    • Boomerang
    • Direct
    • IGTV
    • Layout
    • Threads

iPad and iPhone Apps

  • Creator Studio
  • Facebook
  • Facebook Ads Manager
  • Facebook Analytics
  • Facebook Gaming
  • Facebook Local
  • Facebook Pages Manager
  • Facebook Partner Summit
  • Messenger
  • Messenger Kids
  • Origami Live
  • Portal
  • Spark AR Player
  • Viewpoints
  • Workplace
  • Workplace Chat

Windows Apps

  • Facebook Watch
  • Messenger

If you use Facebook and/or Instagram, or any of the above listed apps (owned by Facebook), here’s 4 easy tips on how you can increase your privacy:

  1. Turn off facial recognition in Facebook settings
    More information about this setting, according to Facebook: When the setting is on,
    • Facebook create a template of your face (“face recognition template”)
      • Used to discover photos and videos you are not tagged in yet
      • Tag suggestions for other people in the photos and videos
      • Friend suggestions for photos and videos with you in them
      • Notify you if your photo appears as someone else’s profile picture
      • Accessibility feature for people with visual impairments
  2. Don’t use the camera in the Facebook app (iOS and Android)
    • Instead use your phone’s native camera app (see tip 3 to increase your privacy further)
    • This refers to the camera option within the Facebook app (both iOS and Android)
  3. Remove metadata before sharing photos (and videos)
    • You can remove the metadata by using an app such as Photo Metadata Remover for Android (I personally use this one - it’s free with ads), or Photo & Video Metadata Remover for iPhone and iPad ($1.99 to remove ads). There is also ExifTool by Phil Harvey if you’re brave enough to use Linux.
    • Metadata can reveal a lot of information about photos, including but not limited to:
      • When the photo was taken
      • Where the photo was taken (GPS Latitude and Longitude)
      • The make and model of your phone (or camera)
      • and many others!
  4. Use the Facebook Container browser add-on when using Facebook on your computer
    • This add-on creates a “sandbox” browser tab that prevents Facebook from accessing information from other browser tabs you have open
    • Mozilla Firefox has a great containerisation feature that allows you to open certain websites in different categories (e.g. Personal, Work, etc.) - I will write a separate post about this soon.

Further reading on Facebook’s facial recognition
According to Facebook’s own terms it is claimed that,

  • The “face recognition template” is only available while the face recognition setting is on. Facebook assert the template is deleted if this setting is turned off.
  • Your template is not shared with anyone
  • Strangers do not have access to your face recognition features
    • The wording of this (in my opinion) does leave some ambiguity. For example, how are “strangers” defined by Facebook? Are strangers simply people who are not in your friends list? Are the “people you may know” considered strangers? Speculation: Facebook may have a nuanced method of determining whether someone is a stranger - i.e. Facebook could have a threshold of x number of mutual connections that bump you out of “stranger” status.
  • Untagged photos with you in them won’t be used in conjunction with the face recognition template.
    • Facebook have removed the ability for users to change the tag suggestion setting - see here
  • Facial recognition “is only available to people who are over 18” - the setting is apparently unavailable for those under 18.
    • This is potentially a minefield for Facebook because it relies on people self-reporting their age.
    • How exactly does Facebook determine peoples’ age that don’t have Facebook accounts? People post pictures of their children all the time, how does Facebook guarantee these photos aren’t being included in their facial recognition? If Facebook are processing photos and videos to determine age, they should be more transparent about it.

To sum up, Facebook collect a lot of information, and I mean a lot. Even without being logged into Facebook they collect a substantial amount of information - these data are used to create “shadow profiles”. I will be going into much more detail on this in a future post.

It’s not feasible for most people in this day and age to disconnect completely from social media companies and retain their privacy. For this reason we should hold these companies accountable and make sure they are transparent about what information they collect about us, how they use this information, who has access to it, as well as give people more control over their own data.

I am not financially or otherwise affiliated with any apps or services listed in this post, though I personally use the following:


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Braeden Mitchell's Picture

About Braeden Mitchell

Braeden has an MSc specialising in Information Security and freelancing as an IT consultant

Sweden https://cyklon.solutions

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