How to know who's tracking you on Facebook

Expert: 'If you didn't pay for a product, you are the product'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the Federal Trade Commission announced Monday an investigation into Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica Data scandal, the I-TEAM delved into just who is tracking user data on social media.

Even savvy privacy-setting users are having an awakening around the globe with the revelation that data collected from 50 million users might have been sold during the 2016 election.

Kevin Johnson, who considers himself an ethical hacker, runs a company called Secure Ideas in Jacksonville. Johnson and his associates are paid to hack into customers' business networks to expose security flaws.

“If you didn't pay for a product, you are the product,” Johnson said. “You've never handed Facebook money, Twitter money or Instagram money, so ask yourself, 'How are they making it?' The answer is selling your data.”

Johnson argues the recent scandal surrounding Facebook should be an awakening for every person who uses social media -- and the internet in general.

He also said the fallout is a long time coming.

“I think it should have been 10 years ago. Facebook's model is to push you to share as much as possible,” Johnson said.

That sharing extends to other apps that allow users to “conveniently” log in with their Facebook profile.

But doing so allows those apps to track information about the user.

To find out for yourself, click the three lines in the bottom right corner of your Facebook app, then click Facebook settings, then account settings and scroll down to select apps. At the top, you'll see “Logged in with Facebook.”

Click on each app, and it will show you exactly what each app is mining from you. You can also select “Remove App.”

Apps like Venmo, a money transfer platform, are already responding to the backlash, sending out a privacy policy update Monday.

If you think you have savvy privacy settings and you’re safe, think again. If you’ve uploaded any information to your profile, Facebook has it and has access to share it -- whether your Facebook friends see it or not.

Johnson warned the estimated 50 million people affected by the Cambridge Analytica scandal could just be the tip of the iceberg.

“I will bet you will be hard pressed to find anyone in the U.S. that wasn't touched by this somehow,” Johnson said.

Johnson has served as an expert witness for the FTC before, so he's familiar with how investigations work.

He said the key to the case against Facebook is that people weren't financially or physically harmed by the data sharing. Some may have been influenced by the ads or fake news stories, but it's our job as a consumer to educate ourselves. Johnson said that responsibility is more important than ever these days.

News4Jax has also learned that Facebook has access to the phone calls and text messages of Android phone users. The app had an opt-in for integrating users' friend lists and contacts. Users who didn't read the 60-75 page terms of service carefully likely missed that they gave Facebook permission to track that information on their phones. 

Android users can research their phones archived data and see that Facebook has stored the user's call logs, including phone numbers and the contact’s name; the platform even stores how long a conversation lasted.

If you want to stop Facebook from constantly harvesting that data from your phone, take these steps:

  • Open the Facebook App on Android phone
  • Click the menu button found on the bottom right 
  • Click on “Settings&Privacy”
  • Click “App Settings”
  • Turn off the “Continuous Contacts Upload” feature
  • To disable the same feature on the iPhone or iPad:

  • Open the Facebook App on iPhone or iPad
  • Click on the menu button found on the bottom right
  • Click “Settings”
  • Click “Account Settings”
  • Click “General”
  • Click “Upload Contacts”
  • Swipe the button left to turn the feature off.

  • About the Author:

    Lynnsey Gardner is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning investigative reporter and fill-in anchor for The Local Station.