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Let’s find out how well Facebook knows us

Words: Maria Jencel and Johanna Kinnock

Photos: Various

Christiane Vejlø, CEO of Elektronista Media.
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Does Mark Zuckerberg know who your next lover will be? In the latest episode of the 5 Podcast, we take a ‘data swab’ and talk to tech expert Christiane Vejlø to find out how much the tech giants actually know about us, if we should be scared, and what can be done about it.

When the 5 team watched Netflix’s documentary The Social Dilemma, we were left feeling ready to delete all our social media apps and give up. Instead we decided to investigate what the tech giants actually know about us.

These companies make their money by targeting people with ads, so they’re obsessed with finding out as much about their audiences as possible.

“There is so much going on behind the scenes that we have no idea about”

Christiane Vejlø

“It is the lack of transparency that is very interesting,” says Christiane Vejlø, who is CEO of Elektronista Media, and an expert in the relationship between technology and people. “There is so much stuff going on behind the scenes that we have no idea about. The algorithms are feeding us all these things that we don’t even know why we get.”

But we can find out. Many social networks will let you see the data they hold on you – you just have to ask. In fact, if you live in the EU, the GDPR data protection law gives you the right to a copy of all the data that any company has on you. It’s like taking a swab of the inside of your cheek for a DNA test, only with data.

Image: Visuals / Unsplash

So 5’s Johanna Kinnock and Maria Jencel tried it out with Instagram. And the information on their interests turned out to be surprisingly… superficial. Instagram had worked out some of their interests (hip hop music in Johanna’s case), but many others came completely out of the blue. It was convinced that both Johanna and Maria were into fishing (for the record, neither of them has ever been fishing), and in Maria’s case, it completely missed her current top preoccupation: that she’s pregnant.

However, Christiane says this seemingly basic information is just the tip of the iceberg. “If you have all these data on billions of people, then you can start seeing correlations that you wouldn’t normally see. For example: vegetarians never miss their flight. That’s a correlation between two things, where it is hard to say why these two things are correlated.”

A Facebook insider once claimed that Mark Zuckerberg would try to predict couples that would break up, and who they would date next, based on their online activity – whose pictures and profiles they looked at, for example. By collecting enough data and finding correlations, tech companies can understand us more deeply than the data alone might suggest.

Yet this deep level of understanding feels invasive, because it means that the tech giants have access to knowledge that we do not have. With calls for more regulation and questions regarding the ethics at the heart of this industry, is it time to build a moral code into the mix?

Dive deeper into this topic in the latest 5 Podcast, Morals and money in tech: Does Zuckerberg really know who your next lover is? It’s out now wherever you get your podcasts, and at the link below.

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