Facebook Collects and Saves What You Delete

We’ve all exercised self-censorship online. We’ve all written something then deleted it before posting. For some reason, Facebook collects and saves it.

Facebook calls these unposted thoughts “self-censorship,” and insights into how it collects these nonposts can be found in a recent paper written by two Facebookers. Sauvik Das, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon and summer software engineer intern at Facebook, and Adam Kramer, a Facebook data scientist, have put online an article presenting their study of the self-censorship behavior collected from 5 million English-speaking Facebook users. (The paper was also published at the International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media.*) It reveals a lot about how Facebook monitors our unshared thoughts and what it thinks about them.

I wonder when some of the Snowden people will finally begin to take a serious look at the far more egregious practice of corporate surveillance and data sharing. It’s far worse than anything NSA doing — with zero court oversight.

(h/t Steve Duckett Attorney at Law)
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  • bbcaaat

    Which is why I deleted my facebook account along with my huffington post account.

  • trgahan

    The standard reply will be “but….but…I can CHOSE to not engage/share information with corporate America!” which is similar to the uninformed specious reasoning that fuels such things as the anti-ACA mandated health insurance clause debate.

    • GrafZeppelin127

      I get that too; that’s the default fall-back position for anyone who’s fine with some corporation somewhere doing something ten times more egregious than whatever government action they’re complaining about. “I can choose who to do business with, who to give my information to,” &c.

      As if you can’t “choose” your government.

      Oh, that’s right, having the person you voted for not win a lawful election = tyranny.

      • Christopher Foxx

        OK, at the risk of being accused for falling back to the “standard reply”, there is a difference between Facebook and the government. I can choose to have nothing to do with Facebook. I can’t choose that about the government.

        If Facebook is collecting everything anyone ever does or posts or, apparently, considers posting on their site they they are still only collecting data from those who partake of Facebook. The gov’t, however, is presumably collecting data on folks from a wide variety of sources. Short of attempting to cut myself off from all modern society and technology, I can’t avoid generating the data the gov’t is presumably logging/tracking/whatever.

        As if you can’t “choose” your government.

        But I can’t. I get a say in the matter, certainly, but I don’t get to decide on my own what government I end up with. I do get to decide, on my own, which social sites and/or companies I deal with.

        • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

          I think you need to put a finer point on it. We do have a say in our government but the more important point is that it is impossible to live in modern society without having to interact with government. So, we can live perfectly fine without having anything to do with Facebook, but it’s almost impossible to get completely away from government. So the government argument (either way) is a red herring, of sorts.

          That point being made…the choice to use Facebook shouldn’t obliterate their obligation to respect my privacy. That’s really the question here, I think.

          • Christopher Foxx

            So, we can live perfectly fine without having anything to do with Facebook, but it’s almost impossible to get completely away from government.

            Yes. There is a basic difference between the two which should not be hand waved away as “oh, that’s just the standard reply from uninformed people.”

            I agree that companies should respect privacy. I think their policies should be clear, including making it very clear just what they are collecting and what they are doing with it, and that they should be required to follow the policies they set and not casually change them. I’d like to see the same from the gov’t.

          • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

            I still think it is apples and oranges. The government has to be concerned with balancing national security with our privacy. Private companies do not.

          • Christopher Foxx

            I still think it is apples and oranges

            Yes. So to equate the two, or say folks can’t be concerned about one unless they’re equally (or more) concerned about the other is unreasonable.

          • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

            I don’t think you can draw that conclusion from what I said at all. They may be apples and oranges insofar as what they are balancing (privacy versus profit or national security) but both result in a loss of privacy. So that, in a general sense, is the same result. As to your statement that corporations can’t do the same kind of harm to you as the government is not true. Corporations can and do kill individuals. They can destroy families and careers. They can lock you up and throw away the key. They are less likely to do that in the US, certainly. But it has and does happen frequently in other places and the more power we grant corporations here, the more likely we make those kind of abuses more likely in the U.S. I have no say whatsoever over who the CEO is (unless of course it’s a publicly traded company and I happen to be rich enough to buy shares). I do have a say in my government. I can vote regardless of my financial status. Again, our government recognize rule of law in which the individual has equal standing to the entire Federal Government–corporations only recognize profit and loss and a single consumer has little power if any.

          • Christopher Foxx

            I don’t think you can draw that conclusion from what I said at all. They may be apples and oranges insofar as what they are balancing (privacy versus profit or national security) but both result in a loss of privacy.

            I didn’t intend my statement to come across as as representing what you had said, if it seemed that way. But in most of the discussions on the topic of gov’t monitoring of phone calls, etc. the argument gets made that folks concerned that the gov’t collects info should be more concerned about companies collecting info. And if they’re not, then their concerns about gov’t data collection are invalid and can be ignored. And I disagree with that.

            As for the distinction, if I’m following you correctly you’re looking at the difference between why they do what they do (companies are looking for profit, gov’t is looking for security), and I was talking about the difference between how one could be avoided (folks can choose not to use Facebook) and one simply cannot. So you headed off in a bit different direction that I was on.

            As to your statement that corporations can’t do the same kind of harm to you as the government is not true. Corporations … can lock you up and throw away the key. They are less likely to do that in the US OK, well, first: Whoa. Facebook can lock folks in the US up and throw away the key? When did the coup happen?

            I have no say whatsoever over who the CEO is (unless of course it’s a publicly traded company and I happen to be rich enough to buy shares). I do have a say in my government. I can vote regardless of my financial status.

            You seem to be trying to make a distinction that really isn’t there. You can vote regardless of your financial status, but it doesn’t take that much to buy stock. Most companies you can buy shares in for less than $100. And you don’t have to wait until you’re 18. If you’re saying that a few shares isn’t enough to really have influence on a CEO election, that you’d have to be rich enough to buy a lot of shares, then ther really isn’t different from the influence money has on political elections.

            But we’re going off in a few directions here. The point I made was and remains my initial replies to trgahan and GfarZeppelin: trying to dismiss the “but I can CHOOSE to share info with corporate America” observation is wrong. An individual’s relationship with a company is fundamentally different than their relationship with a gov’t, largely because one is voluntary and one is not.

        • muselet

          If Facebook is collecting everything anyone ever does or posts or, apparently, considers posting on their site they they are still only collecting data from those who partake of Facebook.

          No.

          It’s my understanding that every web page you visit that lets you “Like” and “Share” and whatever via Facebook sends information about you and what you’re up to—specifically including tracking your movements online—back to Facebook, even if you don’t use those buttons. Just visiting the page gets your information collected. There are browser extensions which purport to block trackers—I use them on both my browsers, before you ask—but I have no earthly idea whether they work as advertised, and data gets collected by means other than trackers.

          You’re dealing with Facebook (and, to be fair, other companies) even if you don’t think you are.

          –alopecia

          • GrafZeppelin127

            I think a lot of websites check your browser cookies to see if you’re logged into Facebook and, by extension, find out who you are. Watch the lower-left corner of your browser window when you click onto any random site, and see if at any point you see something like “Waiting for [x].facebook.com/[xx]…” I saw that and it startled me.

          • Christopher Foxx

            I think a lot of websites check your browser cookies to see if you’re logged into Facebook and, by extension, find out who you are.

            I’m sure they do. So what? They find I’m not logged into Facebook and that there isn’t a nice, tidy self-provided repository of info about me there. Looking for info isn’t’ the same as having it or connecting it to tons of other info.

            I’m sure the folks at Facebook (and many other companies. Facebook’s just a convenient name to use to represent all of them) track a lot of info and have clever ways of linking it together. But I’m not compelled to provide info to them as I am to the gov’t.

          • GrafZeppelin127

            I think I meant to reply to muselet.

          • Christopher Foxx

            It’s my understanding that every web page you visit that lets you “Like” and “Share” and whatever via Facebook sends information about you and what you’re up to—specifically including tracking your movements online—back to Facebook, even if you don’t use those buttons

            The widgets that infest even the most innocuous looking websites (Ben or someone here pointed out how many are on the The Guardian’s site, for example) no doubt track information. But not having a Facebook account, they don’t know who I am other than the user who comes in thru a particular IP address, for example. They don’t have access to anything near all the linked info I provide to gov’t (employer, salary, address history, marriage or divorce records, related family members, etc.)

          • muselet

            But not having a Facebook account, they don’t know who I am other than the user who comes in thru a particular IP address, for example.

            It really doesn’t matter if you have a Facebook account or not, your information is being hoovered up by Facebook’s tracker/web bugs/what have you: what page you came from, what page you left to, a goodly part of your browser history, and so on. It’s possible to build up a reasonably accurate profile of someone from that.

            You are, as I said before, dealing with Facebook whether you like it or not, and Facebook doesn’t have to pay much mind to legal or constitutional niceties.

            –alopecia

        • GrafZeppelin127

          I don’t want to fall back on the “standard reply” either, but you can choose your government. In the modern world, you can choose to live in any country you want. So you have about 195 governments to choose from.

          My point, though, is that as you pointed out you do get a say. I am fed up to here with people who talk about “The Government™” as if it’s some autonomous malevolent entity that spontaneously passed into existence from another dimension just to take your guns and read your emails; provided, that is, that the occupant of the White House and the majority of members of Congress are people you didn’t, or wouldn’t, vote for.

          It’s a cliché to say we get the government we deserve, but it’s true. George Carlin said it best: When you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you’re going to get selfish, ignorant leaders. “The Government™” consists of American men and women who were raised in American homes in American towns by American parents, educated in American schools, and elected by American voters. This is the best we can do, folks. Garbage in, garbage out.

          We the People are “The Government™,” and We the People are responsible for what it does.

          • Christopher Foxx

            but you canchoose your government. In the modern world, you can choose to live in any country you want. So you have about 195 governments to choose from.

            Not at all a practical solution, and kind of a ridiculous one to suggest. I might as well say I want a hereditary dictatorship where I’m in charge. Can one of those 195 governments provide that?

            That aside, I agree that we get the gov’t we deserve, but shy away from the “We the People are the gov’t”. Although I’ve voted in every single election I’ve ever been eligible to vote in, in a system awash with PAC money and financed by folks like the Koch brothers, I cannot bring myself to feel like my interests are actually represented. “We the People are the gov’t” sounds good, and certainly the citizenry in the aggregate wield some influence. But the gov’t has not been “of the people” for some time.

          • GrafZeppelin127

            Not at all a practical solution, and kind of a ridiculous one to suggest

            Of course, but as long as we’re dealing in abstractions…

            One could argue — and “one” does not necessarily mean me — that the “system awash with PAC money and financed by folks like the Koch brothers” is the one we created, enabled, and allowed to happen over the course of history. We could have prevented it, and we could stop/change it, if we had the knowledge and understanding of, and collective interest in, why and how to do it.

            Meaning, if it’s true that “the gov’t has not been ‘of the people’ for some time,” that’s our fault.

            And it remains a fact that “the gov’t” is not an autonomous entity with a singular consciousness and force of will. It’s an organization that consists of thousands upon thousands of your fellow Americans. Talking about it as if it were a Golem is of no utility.

          • Christopher Foxx

            CF: … kind of a ridiculous one to suggest

            GZ: Of course

            Thanks for that. Too many folks won’t note when hypotheticals or examples have gotten out of hand.
            [ /aside]

            Oh, we’re the Victor Frankensteins, certainly. But it being our fault doesn’t mean we’re in control now.

        • GrafZeppelin127

          It might also be worth pointing out that private corporations are not subject to the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. They’re also not responsible for keeping foreign invaders at bay, your water clean and your food safe. So let’s not lose our perspective.

          A small micro-level example that may or may not be relevant or analogous: When I was a teacher, going to law school at the same time, I found that studying the law made it a lot easier to come up with the proper answers to those stupid questions that kids always ask in an effort to let themselves off the hook for their bad behavior. “Why do I have to listen to you?” “Why do you get to make the rules?” “Why do you get to decide that I can’t [insert behavior here] in the classroom?”

          Most teachers would either ignore this or simply say, “Because I said so” or some variation thereof. But once I started studying the law I figured out the best answer: “Because I can be held liable for anything that happens to you. If you [insert behavior here] and something happens, someone gets hurt, &c., I can be sued, and/or disciplined. So as long as I’m on the hook for anything that happens in my classroom, I get to decide what you can and can’t do in here.”

          All I’m saying is that while government has powers that private corporations don’t, it also has obligations and responsibilities that private corporations don’t. I’m not saying “Cut the government some slack on this;” I’m saying it’s a bad analogy.

    • Christopher Foxx

      but I can CHOSE to not engage/share information with corporate America

      Truth to tell, that’s pretty much the first thought I had. And it’s a valid thought that doesn’t deserve to be dismissed out of hand.

      One can choose to not to get involved with any company they don’t want to be involved with. There may be some inconveniences in doing so, but it is a choice one can make. Avoiding the gov’t is nigh impossible without becoming a hermit.

      Also, what a company may do with my information and what a government could do with it are notably different. Facebook may fill my browser with ads they consider of interest to me or sell my name to spammers, but they can’t put me on a no fly list, freeze my assets or arrest me.

      • Frito

        It’s a good point. That’s why it’s being dismissed out of hand.

      • Badgerite

        The Government can do all of that, but you always have the right to challenge that in a court of law. That is something Snowden supporters leave out. What he did, was espionage. The nature of the act does not change because you have ‘high motivations’. This is someone who took enough classified information to threaten the government with a ‘dead man’s switch’. If you did that to Facebook, as an employee, they would go to the government and insist on your being arrested, tried and imprisoned. And they would have every right to do so.
        New technologies come with a price. They always have. The price paid for the convenience and instant communications provided by the internet and cell phones has been some measure of your privacy.
        If a business does something to you and it is illegal, you resort to government to seek redress of the injury. If not illegal, you can only resort to the market place.
        Likewise, if the government does any of the above, due process requirements still apply. You can challenge theses actions and you seek redress from government itself. Because government is not a monolith. At least not the American government.

      • trgahan

        It is a very attractive argument, but from what I’ve learned about internet companies (especially social media focused ones) and pointed out by commenters smarter than me, the issue isn’t really that simple.

        Currently, these companies net worth is tied to the idea that the data they accumulate and their ability to obtain it will, one day, yield something actually valuable to more tradition industry. That or like cable TV and telephones, we’re all going to suddenly start paying $100 a month for services that used to be free (or very inexpensive). So these companies have a vested interest in being able to reach, monitor, and compile data on you (especially without your knowledge) for resale to third parties, because to the outside, technology stock mega-investors, that is currently the only value these companies truly have.

        As for who is “worse,”. Yeah, government can do a lot serious things to you in the near term, though they report (take as you like) their ability to compile data is FAR outstripped their ability to analyze it. But we really have no frame of reference to what our current (and growing) mega-market of personal consumer information (the less the consumer knows how and what is collected the better) in the private sector is going to lead us.
        I’d say, going forward we’d have a much better success rate regulating government than the private sector.

        • Christopher Foxx

          their ability to compile data is FAR outstripped their ability to analyze it.

          That’s why I generally don’t get too concerned. I figure I’m a few drops in the ocean of data. Nobody’s going to focus on me unless I’ve already come to their attention for some other reason than just being in their database..

  • captkurt

    I doubt the Greenwald–Snowden army will express concern over private corporate surveillance anytime soon.

    Why would they want to jeopardize potential book/movie deals, speaking engagements, and other future opportunities (cash investment for a media ‘business venture’, for example) to make a quick buck?

  • muselet

    And people stare in drop-jawed disbelief when informed I don’t use Facebook.

    One solution is to compose and edit posts offline, then copy-paste.

    Another is to make sure everything you delete contains the phrases “Mark Zuckerberg” and “spawn of the devil” in close proximity to each other.

    –alopecia

  • Frito

    “The Snowden people” – I guess that makes you one of the “NSA people”, right Bob?

    Let me see if I understand your reasoning: We should leave the NSA alone because what Facebook is doing is “far worse than anything NSA doing” (citation and proofreading needed by the way).

    Is Facebook using this information to spy on its allies? Illegally sharing it with the DEA, and then lying about it? Conspiring to weaken encryption standards? Is Facebook deliberately infecting computers around the world with malware? Commiting perjury and walking away scott-free? Hiding its misconduct behind kangaroo courts with secret evidence?

    As other commenters pointed out, you can avoid Facebook if you want to (I do), but you can’t avoid the prying eyes of the NSA.

    • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

      No one said “leave the NSA alone”. Nice try. Corporations DO spy on their allies and their enemies in addition to consumers. They DO illegally share information and lie about it. They DO conspire to weaken encryption standards (as well as every other kind of standard you can think of). They DO infect computers with their software usually as the result of consumer ignorance but they take advantage of it and as such, it could be called malware. The DO commit perjury (along with many other crimes) and walk away barely scathed. They often don’t even end up in any court at all. And again, if they do, they get a slap on the wrist.

      The problem with the Snowden story is that there is too much noise to focus on the signal that IS important. A more capable and responsible journalist would have and should have left out the histrionics and focused on the actual abuses so the public, who is confused about even the most basic things and has an attention span of 5 minutes at best, could follow the story and actually do something about it. Instead they’re just hearing a bunch of noise that frightens them indiscriminately. Journalists are supposed to clear the waters, not muddy them up.

    • Badgerite

      Sharing information relating to the commission of a crime with the DEA is not only not illegal, it is specifically authorized by the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act. It is one of the exceptions to ‘needs a warrant’ and specifically authorizes sharing the info with the appropriate law enforcement agency.
      As to Judge Leon’s decision, it remains to be seen how higher courts are going to interpret Smith v Maryland with respect to bulk collection of telephony metadata, but 17 Judges have signed off on it. So, there are arguments to be made on both sides.
      What’s more, I think Judge Leon’s assessment of no significant successes demonstrated to justify the program misses the forest for the trees.
      I remember the decade leading up to 2001. Islamic fundamentalists made frequent attempts to attack American targets abroad and on the mainland. The WTC bombing around 1995, the LAX attempted bombing in 1999/2000. They were actually developing terror cells in this country. Within a year after 9/11 there were the London, Madrid and Bali bombings. Other than the Boston Marathon bombing, I can’t think of any attack here in America that succeeded in getting off the ground.
      Likewise in Europe.

  • Victor_the_Crab

    Thank God I’ve never signed up for a Facebook account, and never will.

  • ChrisAndersen

    Except that Facebook *doesn’t* collect and save what you delete.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/12/16/1263165/–Facebook-tracks-what-I-don-t-even-publish-No-No-it-doesn-t

    (which only proves that DailyKOS still has some worth in this discussion)

  • Rita D. Lipshutz

    …which is why i always laugh my ass off at the geniuses who use FB for whining about the NSA.

  • bbcaaat

    When The Huffington Post switched to Facebook for comments, I left. I hope more people do the same.