Know how Facebook might track and study your activity

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With nearly 2 billion users and counting, Facebook has one of the world’s largest user bases throughout the Internet. This empowers Facebook to accumulate personal data on a large scale, and use them for various kinds of targeted advertising. The situation may pose a threat to your online privacy, and abandoning the platform is also not a feasible option.

Analyze Data from Interactions on Facebook

So, it’s important to understand how social networks like Facebook track your online activity and uses the data to gain personal insights about you. That way, if you’re really paranoid about your privacy (which might be quite reasonable in the post Snowden era), you can make an educated move the next time you want to interact with online content.

Data Selfie – Analyze Data from Interactions

Data Selfie is one such browser extension for Chrome that tracks your Facebook activity and shows you the several data points that it has captured, based on what you look at & for how long, the posts you like, the links you click on, and whatever you type. It then runs them through natural language processing and advanced machine learning algorithms, from IBM Watson and the University of Cambridge, to give you an insight about what Facebook might infer from your actions.

When the extension is installed on your Chrome, Data Selfie keeps track of your Facebook activity and generates an activity profile (hence the name “Data Selfie”). To begin with, this profile shows you your Facebook usage in a timeline, following a specific color coding that indicates different aspects of usage. This follows a list of friends and pages that you’ve interacted the most with.

Next, it shows you a list of top keywords and entities (people, organizations, places, etc.) from the content you look at, sorted by relevance and sentiment. Further, it also gives you personality predictions, comparing them with what you looked at, versus what you typed.

Also, based on your comments and messages, Data Selfie shows you inferences on Religious and Political preferences, shopping trends that you prefer, or health preferences — usually the stuff that’s used for targeted advertising.

The interface used to show you all these details, resembles the command line. The geeky look and feel has been deliberately provided to indicate that “you’re hacking your own data”, according to the creators.

Data Selfie stores all the tracked information locally on your computer, which can be exported on demand, and even deleted if required. No information is sent to any server at any time.

The project is open source and its code is available on GitHub. You can download the Data Selfie Chrome extension to discover your Facebook usage profile and what it can learn from your activities.

WolframAlpha – Facebook Report

Data Selfie tracks your Facebook usage from the moment you install the Chrome extension. However, if you wish to get some personal insight based on your past activity, you can use WolframAlpha’s Facebook Report. It provides important data points from your Facebook usage history.

Unlike Data Selfie, which captures real time client side Facebook data, WolframAlpha’s report consists of your past activities, like the number of posts shared, photos/videos uploaded, keywords you have interacted with (comments written, messages typed, posts clicked, etc.). It doesn’t provide any personality traits or other predictions based on your usage, but it’s a useful tool to keep track of your Facebook usage over the years.

To generate your Facebook Report from WolframAlpha, you need to sign up on their website and go to this URL and click on the “Get Your Report” button. You need to authorize WolframAlpha’s app access to your Facebook data. Once that’s done, your Facebook Analytics will be generated.

If you know of any other tools that reveal your usage history and provide personal insights, do let us know in the comments below.

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