Shadow Profiles: You can’t run from Facebook

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Facebook shadow profiles aren’t new news. In fact, it was reported at least 3-years ago that the company used shadow profiles to inventory non-Facebook users. So why are we writing about it now? Well, you’d be surprised at how many people still do not know about shadow profiles. Creating more content on the matter may help some readers understand what they are and how they affect them.

Even if you’ve never signed up for Facebook and even if you’ve deleted your Facebook profile and data, you probably still have a profile on Facebook’s servers somewhere. These are called shadow profiles.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

How is Facebook able to create shadow profiles? Easy. They use the contacts of their current users to build profiles of those contacts. It’s important to note that Facebook can only create shadow profiles if a Facebook user gives Facebook access to their contacts list.

Generally, users are asked if Facebook can have access to their contacts when they sign up. Facebook’s reason for requesting your contacts list is for its “People You May Know” feature. This feature scans your contacts list to see if they exist on Facebook so you can connect with them. The problem is, it keeps that data and creates a profile if that person isn’t on Facebook. It also uses the data to fill in the blanks of contacts with a Facebook profile but maybe didn’t fill out their profile completely.

But the request for contacts doesn’t always stop at the initial signup. Facebook has been known to send out reminders to nudge users into giving access to users’ contact lists. Facebook also claims it needs to collect data from non-users and create shadow profiles for security reasons. The video below, posted by Frontline PBS in 2018, does an excellent job of visually taking you through what Facebook is doing.

So, is there any way of avoiding Facebook’s shadow profiles algorithm? Simon Batt of Make Use Of has an excellent piece from 2020 that you may want to read; below are some of his thoughts on this.

Unfortunately, this isn’t very practical. You would have to ask everyone you know who a. has your contact details and b. is on Facebook to follow the procedure. If even one friend doesn’t comply, they’ll eventually upload your data to Facebook.

As such, the best way you can protect yourself from data harvesting is to give your friends some “burner” details. Have an email and phone number which you freely give out to friends, while keeping your personal information private.

It’s a lot to ask, but it’s the only real way you can prevent Facebook from harvesting your data. When a friend adds you as a contact and syncs their contacts with Facebook, your shadow profile is created. As such, the only way to prevent it is to create a new, private email address. Then, only allow close friends and family without Facebook to contact you with it.

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What do you think of shadow profiles? What have you done to try and avoid Facebook’s intrusions? Please share your thoughts on any of the social media pages listed below. You can also comment on our MeWe page by joining the MeWe social network.


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