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The Fuel of Facebook

15th May, 2018 | Data Security | Entropic

In our previous article, we introduced a model to help describe the lifecycle of information after it has been disclosed to an organization by an individual. In this article we'll focus on one particular phase of this lifecycle - the Collect & Send phase, and describe how it applies to Facebook.

When you think of how users interact with Facebook, you might picture someone using an app on their phone, or a browser on their PC to interact with the social network. However, over the years through third party integrations, company acquisitions, and the evolution of the Facebook Platform, the number of products and services they now offer, along with the volume of information that they collect from their users, has massively increased.

Menlo Park Trail

In terms of information collection, Facebook is not only fueled by individuals who use their web site and mobile apps, which includes the acquisitions they have made, such as Instagram and WhatsApp. Information is also gathered from a very large ecosystem of third party developers who create web sites, Apps and smart (IoT) devices using elements of the Facebook Platform.

Facebook now has at least 24 of their own Apps available across the App Store and Google Play. These include Individual and Workplace Messaging Apps, Media Capture/Modification/Sharing Apps, Recommendations Apps, and Ad and Analytics Managers.

Third party Apps developed using the Facebook Platform, such as ones for mobile and Facebook itself, now number in the hundreds of thousands. There is also a vast number of Web sites out there that offer some type of simple linkage to Facebook features such as Facebook Login, Like or Sharing.

Smart (IoT) devices which include home entertainment systems, kitchen and laundry appliances, intelligent assistants, home security and monitoring devices, and health monitoring devices, also use elements of the Facebook Platform to allow users to interact with Facebook. Smart devices that use the Facebook Platform empower the collection of users and their household information on a 24x7 basis, where in the past this type of information collection was done based on less frequent, more specific events only.

The more frequently products and services access and use the Facebook Platform, the more they disclose information about people and their lifestyles back to Facebook.

This multi-faceted approach to information collection is not unique to Facebook. Companies that offer many of their services for free, need to generate revenue based on monetizing information shared by individuals - hence the broad outreach of information collection. Based on events that have recently impacted people's privacy, along with the national security of countries which includes the US, this centralized dependency on information is overdue for a disruption. Blockchain technology is a foundational frontrunner for this disruption, as described in this article by Alex Moskov, originally posted on CoinCentral.com.

Illustrated below is a high level view of one phase of the Information Disclosure Lifecycle that we introduced in our last article. Specifically, we focus on the Collect & Send phase, and show the different possible sources of information in this phase, that fuel Facebook.

Facebook Data Collection


1) USERS OF FACEBOOK WEB SITE


2) USERS OF WEB SITES THAT USE FACEBOOK


3) USERS OF THIRD PARTY APPS THAT USE FACEBOOK


4) USERS OF SMART DEVICES THAT USE FACEBOOK


5) USERS OF FACEBOOKS OWN MOBILE APPS


6) USERS OF OTHER SERVICES THAT USE FACEBOOK


Conclusion

It's important to note that the picture we have just discussed is not exhaustive. Facebook has an extremely elaborate information collection infrastructure that has evolved over a period of more than 14 years. Additionally, our view is through a lens based on how Facebook collects information.

We could also look at information collection through another lens, such as Google or Twitter which might yield an equally or more elaborate ecosystem of information collection, with overlaps to Facebook and many other organizations.

If you have any feedback, questions, or suggestions, please let us know.