Facebook Shadow Profiles – All you need to know

TWALKITOUT: Privacy is the new talk of the town. It was already buzzing in the tech circles with big companies being attacked for data. It began to intensify when Twitter users’ email ids were compromised. And finally the issue started burning when Edward Snowden alarmed the world with his PRISM expose. We have already discussed NSA’s PRISM and Government of India’s equally terrifying ICMS in TwalkItOut. But the story doesn’t have an end yet. This one’s about Facebook Shadow Profiles – All you need to know.

Last Friday (Early Saturday morning here in India), Facebook put up a blog post stating that over 6 million users’ personal details were compromised due to a bug in its system. The email ids and phone numbers that users preferred not to share anyone have been included when his/her friend downloaded an archive of their Facebook profile. Facebook also stated that this happened only once or twice for every profile. They have also said that the bug was resolved less than 24 hours after it was brought to attention. Facebook also sent out emails to all the users whose data were compromised with the exact details that were shared with their friends.

Everything was fine till then. But a few users who received this emails reported that the email ids and phone number shared with their friends were never added by them to Facebook. Consider that, you have a separate personal and professional email addresses. You would have given your personal email id to Facebook. But your professional email id is what that is shared with your friends, even though you have never said that to Facebook. The problem is that

Even if you did not say that, Facebook knows everything about you.

Now, how is that even possible? With the amount of data Facebook handles, nothing is impossible. The magic is in Facebook’s mobile apps and their ‘Find your Friends’ feature. The feature access your contact list, uploads them to Facebook’s servers and analyses them with fellow Facebook users to suggest possible people you may know. Again consider the situation. You friend has stored your contact information in his/her mobile with your mobile number and both personal and professional email ids. When Facebook analysis this contact, it finds that it is you based on your personal email id and links your professional email id and phone number to your profile even without your knowledge. So that when another friend of you who only has your professional email id (may be your boss) might find your easily on Facebook.

I don’t even have a Facebook profile. Why should I even bother about all these stuffs? There is a reason to bother. When the contacts are analyzed, if Facebook finds the user is does not have a Facebook account, it creates a virtual profile linking your phone numbers and email ids. This is what is known as Facebook Shadow Profiles. When you sign up for Facebook in future, this shadow profile is linked to your profile. So, even before you join Facebook, it knows all about you.

The next question will be “Is it legal?” Unfortunately Yes! They are absolutely legal. When you sign up for Facebook you accept their terms and conditions. A point in that agreement (if you have a lot of time to kill, read the agreement line by line) clearly states that you give Facebook complete permission to access, store and analyze your contact book. So, the bottom line is that, Even if you don’t want to be a part of the Social world, you have no way to escape.

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Kavin Kumar

If you liked this post, please share it and click the Like FB or Follow Twitter button! Or consider subscribing to my mailing list!! Kavin Kumar is a Mechanical Engineer by education; Software engineer by profession; Blogger by passion. He is the Twitter voice of a popular brand. He writes about Technology and Social Media.

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