It shouldn’t really be a surprise these days that Internet services accumulate a wealth of data from each and every user, especially those that offer said services for free. More often than not, this data collection activity is explained as a way to improve the user experience, mostly by personalizing what users see to match what they might be interested in. All of this is, of course, invisible to the user, which has been the subject of much debate and legislation. Complying with those laws, Facebook and Instagram are updating their data download tools to include not just your direct data but the information it uses to infer what users like.
Facebook no longer keeps the data it collects a secret from users, not that it has much choice. Privacy laws both in the US and Europe have practically forced its hand to allow users to download the data the social networking giant has on you. Most users probably won’t bother but it’s an essential tool for privacy researchers and advocates to see just what Facebook uses to improve user experience.
The latest update adds even more data to what you can download when you select Download Your Information on Facebook or Download Your Data on Instagram. Specifically, this new set includes your interactions on these social media sites. Not just your own posts or even your friends list but actions like adding people, liking a page or post, and more.
You’d be forgiven for worrying about Facebook monitoring almost all your activities. The company explains that it uses these pieces of information to infer things that you like so that it could present more personalized suggestions for content. It doesn’t say anything about providing the information to third parties, particularly for advertisement purposes.
The new and larger data set is now available on Facebook and Instagram. Whether regular users will take advantage of that tool is, of course, a different question entirely. Fortunately, there are enough people who are willing to dissect that data to check that Facebook is behaving in accordance with those laws.