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Following you

Explainers

Facebook Is Following You

December 2nd, 2020

Facebook is following you more closely than you thought. A little-known tool called Centra allows the company to track your online behavior well beyond the confines of its platform.

Your activity on Facebook, including what articles you read and videos you share with friends and family is of great interest to large organizations, from advertisers to political campaigns. That much is, by now, common knowledge. But recent testimony on Capitol Hill indicates Facebook’s tracking efforts have advanced. A lot.

During congressional hearings in November, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley (R) began his line of questioning to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg by describing a new method to violate users’ privacy, compromising their security.

Hawley said a former Facebook employee had come forward to his office as a whistleblower, according to a report in Privacy Watch News. This whistleblower said Facebook created a powerful data tracking tool called Centra.

What Is Centra?

Facebook made Centra to monitor its users’ behavior on the Facebook platform, which is understandably part of how the social network functions. But what users didn’t know, is that Centra also tracks users activity all across the Internet. Facebook is following you.

How Does Centra Work?

In a nutshell, Centra follows a Facebook user and is able to tell if a person has more than one profile (such as a person with a personal account for staying in touch with family and friends, plus another page for a business). Centra examines connections between recipients of messages and accounts that are connected. It also can monitor pages a member visits when those pages have Facebook buttons.

What Kind of Data Can Centra Gather?

Facebook gathers not only information about these connections with others, it harnesses behavioral data to keep track of what users do on other accounts, even if the person signed up with a different name for the express purpose of staying private. 

Data collected includes photos posted by users and photos liked by those who view them, as well as details such as the names and categories of people’s pages they’ve been visiting.

According to Input magazine, the Centra dashboard (interface for users) shows it can track an individual using multiple Facebook accounts from the unique hardware identifier, such as a smartphone’s IMEI number and a Facebook cookie. Use the same phone for different accounts, and the company will still know it’s you.

What Centra Means for Your Privacy

Facebook’s hidden ability to keep track of what you’re doing even when you’re browsing other sites away from Facebook means you could be giving away much more personal information than you realized—about your habits, interests and connections with other people.

This leaves you vulnerable to more sophisticated ad tracking as well as sets you up for profiling by organizations that want to influence your behavior. For example, political campaigns will want to have greater insight into what motivates you and what kinds of people you associate with.

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