Facebook Has a New Data Policy—Here’s the Short Version

You didn’t read Facebook’s previous data privacy policy, and you probably won’t read this new one either. So we picked out the highlights.

By Katherine Bindley and Wilson Rothman .

Facebook’s new user-data policy clarifies a lot that was vague in the prior version. Photo: Michael Candelori/Pacific Press/ZUMA Press 

Facebook Inc. FB -0.57%▲ just updated and expanded its data policy for the first time since late 2016. What contained around 2,700 words now has 4,200. It clarifies a lot that was vague in the prior version—in light of the company’s recent scandals, it needed to. There are now more specifics about how your data is collected, why it is stored and when it is deleted.

Much improved, the new policy actually makes for a read that is finally consumable. But if you just want the freshest and most interesting stuff pulled from the fine print, here it is: 

How Facebook Gathers Your Data

•Information “you provide” Facebook isn’t just things like posts and photos, but can include the location metadata inside photos, and even what is seen through the camera in its apps—for instance when you use filters and masks. The company says its systems automatically process content and communications to analyze context.

•Facebook uses your address book, call log or SMS log to suggest people you may know. This only happens if you choose to upload, sync or import this info, says the policy. However, the company can collect your phone number and additional information from other people uploading their contacts.

•Facebook logs when you are using its products, when you last used them and what posts, videos and other content you viewed—not just what you liked, shared or searched.

•Among your phone’s attributes that Facebook logs are battery level, signal strength, even available storage. This is to help the company determine ways to make its apps run better and potentially save battery life.

•On your computer, Facebook logs your browser type and its plugins. It also tracks whether a window is in the foreground or background, and the movements of your mouse. (Creepy? The policy says it is to help determine you are a human, not a robot.)

•While Facebook can obtain your location when you provide it access to GPS, for instance, the company doesn’t stop tracking your location when you turn off location services. The policy says it can get your location from other data points, including IP addresses and nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers.

•In addition to collecting information about the devices you use Facebook on, the company says it can also collect information about other devices that are nearby or “on your network.” The policy says it is to make it easier, for instance, to stream video from your phone to your TV.

•Facebook acknowledges that it tracks you via outside website and app developers—including device information, the sites you visit, purchases you make and more. This happens whether or not you are logged into Facebook.

•The policy confirms that the company tracks you even if you don’t have a Facebook account.

•Facebook says it also gets information about you from third-party data collectors. The company says it requires each of these partners to have lawful rights to collect, use and share your data..

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized to lawmakers in Washington, D.C., on April 10 for privacy lapses on the Facebook platform. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg 

How Facebook Uses Your Data

•The company uses your information across its multiple products (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp), so that it might suggest you follow someone on Instagram who is already a Facebook friend.

•If an account is, for instance, sending spammy texts in WhatsApp, the company will “process information” from that account to “take appropriate action” on its related accounts in Facebook, Instagram and Messenger.

•Facebook now recognizes that some data categories have special protections under the laws of certain countries. These could include facial recognition, racial or ethnic origin, religious and political views, philosophical beliefs and trade-union membership.

•Facebook might introduce face-recognition technology on Instagram. If it does, it will “let you know first” and give you opt-in control instead of turning it on automatically.

•The company says it uses location data—where you live, where you work, what businesses are close by, even people who are near you—to “personalize and improve” its products.

•The data Facebook collects on or off its own products can be used to measure the effectiveness of ads, “combat harmful conduct,” fight spam and even perform research, such as tracking the “migration patterns” of people during a crisis.

How Your Facebook Data Might Be Shared or Removed

•Facebook warns users to “consider who you choose to share with,” because people can take screenshots, download pictures or reshare the content with others on—or off—Facebook’s products. 

•Friends and others in your networks can see signals telling them whether or not you’re active on Facebook, Instagram or Messenger, or when you were last on them.

•Your list of friends is no longer automatically part of what is shared with outside developers, though they can request it. Facebook won’t share other information about your friends and followers with outside apps and websites (unless your friends and followers also use the app or website).

•If you’ve logged into an outside app or website using Facebook, but haven’t used the app or website in three months, its developers will lose access to your Facebook and Instagram data.

•Outside developers can only ask for your name, Instagram username and bio, profile photo and email address without any additional permission. If they want anything more, they have to make a case and get Facebook’s approval. According to Facebook’s developer page, the company might allow an app to pull “hometown” if it “personalizes” the experience based on where someone grew up.

•The data Facebook holds is stored or deleted on a “case-by-case determination.” For example, your search history is deleted after six months; if you upload a photo of your driver’s license or passport for account verification, it is deleted in 30 days.

•If you delete your account—which includes photos and status updates—you won’t be able to recover that information later.

What Isn’t Covered

The new data policy may be more illuminating than its predecessors, but there are key questions for which it still does not provide answers. So we dug a little deeper...

•How can nonusers see what information Facebook has collected on them? You can request your information through this Help Center page;just click “This doesn’t answer my question” then “I don’t have a Facebook account,” then fill out the form. (Note: We haven’t tried this yet.)

•If I choose to turn off personalized ads, why does Facebook continue to track me? Why can’t I opt out? Facebook’s not-so-satisfying answer (found elsewhere): Because the websites and apps that use Facebook’s tracking tools send information on everybody, and don’t know who is using Facebook products or not.

•Can I see, let alone control, the data that Facebook collects about me from other users? No.

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