As the conversation about how Facebook handles its users’ data heats up, people are discovering that Facebook could know information about people who don't even have a profile.
It turns out that Facebook is probably storing information about you even if you don’t have an account with them.
Mark Zuckerberg appeared before congress where he was extensively questioned about Facebook’s privacy, as well as the company’s approach to data and privacy.
Republican Ben Luján asked him about the company’s use of ‘shadow profiles’ – a terms used to describe the collection of non-user data.
Facebook has detailed profiles on people who have never signed up for Facebook, yes or no?
Zuckerberg had responded:
Congressman, in general we collect data on people who have not signed up for Facebook for security purposes to prevent the kind of scraping you were just referring to [reverse searches based on public info like phone numbers].
So these are called shadow profiles, is that what they’ve been referred to by some?
Congressman, I’m not, I’m not familiar with that.
The exchange prompted fierce discussion online.
So, what information does Facebook know about its nonusers?
When you first join Facebook, you will be offered ‘People You May Know' – profiles of potential friends or work colleagues.
What you might not know, is that when those friends upload their contact list onto Facebook servers, that information was used to create a 'shadow profile' of you so that when you join, you will be recommended as a friend. These shadow profiles are completely private.
It means that Facebook can learn a lot about the social circle, and to an extent the habits of non-Facebook users.
This isn’t a new element of Facebook, and Gizmodojournalists have investigated shadow profiles in 2017.