New 'Data Selfie' Extension Lets You Monitor What Facebook Is Tracking

Your inferred data reveals a lot more than you'd think.

Courtesy Pixabay (CC).

That Facebook knows more about our virtual lives than we do is, at this point, no alarming secret. But many, if not most, are still left wondering how the social media giant obtains this information.

On a quest to “open up the programming and show people how these things really work,” New York-based creative studio DATA X launched a Google Chrome extension this January called “Data Selfie,” a program that enables users to monitor and analyze their activity.

“People generally seem to understand that their likes and posts are trackable, but most people do not understand that their passive activity can also be tracked,” DATA X co-founders Regina Flores Mir and Hang Do Thi Duc told NEW INC in an email. “We think this is the dangerous part of Facebook—the data that you unconsciously leave behind.”

The full scope of Facebook's tracking power remains unclear, but DATA X's program yields information on a user's passive activity, encompassing metrics that Facebook openly admits to measuring such as scroll timesduration of views, and websites visited among other patterns that help infer user behavior.

The 'Data Selfie' Chrome extension is open-source and free; and where privacy is concerned, the company assures users that data tracked by the browser extension is not stored on DATA X servers (though parts of the data are sent to servers to run prediction algorithms without ID or personal information).

Screenshot of 'Data Selfie.' Courtesy DATA X.

Abuses in data mining technology (as well as Facebook’s influential hand in the industry) have become subjects of international concern following the 2016 US presidential election, subsequently spurring a media storm on filter bubbles and the proliferation of fake news.

In 2015, after Facebook launched an education portal on the mechanics of its targeted advertising packages, the Washington Post reported on the extent of the platform's insights, which includes access to user credit lines, email services, and even the length of time users spent living in a specific household. 

The studio notes that their Data Selfie program "only shows a glimpse" of the information Facebook is gathering, emphasizing that the platform's ability to track offline web activity is a major point of concern. 

[I]t is important to note that during the 2016 election, the Trump campaign used a massive data effort led by the firm Cambridge Analytica to use personality profiling to target ads to voters,” DATA X said. “These practices could become common-place in a Trump administration [that attempts] to control messaging and influence public opinion." 

Screenshot of 'Data Selfie.' Courtesy DATA X.

“The notion of a filter bubble, or personalized news streams based on pre-determined interests, has dominated contemporary media debates with the rise of the 'fake news' phenomenon,” DATA X continued. “The emergence of blatantly fake news articles was precipitated largely by Facebook, leaving huge questions about its role as a media influencer with such highly-intricate data sets about its users.”

With 'Data Selfie,' the studio is hoping to level the playing field.

“[I]f the public is more informed about how these tools work, they will have a voice to be able to talk about [if] they should work this way,” DATA X said. “In today’s digital world, nearly all aspects of our lives is trackable. It is important to remember that someone is always watching.”