It’s not easy to fully understand how personal data is used on social media sites. Straightforward questions are often stonewalled by Facebook and other sites with the claim that data practices are tied to proprietary advertising algorithms.
Yet, even computer scientists are surprised when they learn about the common data practices that have been discovered by social media researchers.
In fact, your contact information may be one of the primary drivers of social media algorithms, powering the network of how users connect with one another and how brands target users. Here’s what we know.
Contact Information Drives Social Media
The contact information on your social media accounts, including name, email address, phone number, and location, is used to match you up with advertisers. However, social media sites go beyond using the contact information within your profile details. For example, the phone numbers that are used with Facebook’s two-factor authentication are also targetable by advertisers.
By using only your contact information, advertisers can easily identify past customers, current customers, or likely customers that they already have on file. This profile identification is highly valuable to advertisers who want to target custom audiences.
Social Media Is Building Shadow Contact Information
The power of contact information goes further still. Phone numbers that are shared with Facebook as part of a user’s contact list become associated with Facebook accounts, even if the user didn’t directly upload their number. This ultimately means that social media sites know much more about you than what you directly feed it.
This “shadow contact information” is not accessible or editable by the owner of the phone number since they did not upload it. However, the number can be used by advertisers to identify customers or prospects.
Shadow contact information also powers social media’s recommendations of people you may know. This means it can dredge up old contacts, former relationships, and business associates. As a result, Facebook established a golden rule for the People You May Know function: “Don’t suggest the mistress to the wife.”
Contact Information Can Be Used with Location Data
Social networks can also develop user associations by identifying when two smartphones that have the app installed are in the same place at the same time.
In a 2014 patent application, Facebook showcased how it’s able to use the accelerometer and gyroscope readings of each phone to determine whether the users were walking together or facing each other. However, the company claims this technology is not yet being used.
Impact of Personal Contact Information on Social Media
Contact information is the core of how social networks are able to build out user profiles. It drives both direct advertising revenue and social connections. It also can determine the vitality of a social media platform because the People You May Know function accounts for a large percentage of online connections.
Moreover, your contact information could also potentially be used to link your user profiles with banking data and medical data, two initiatives that Facebook were exploring in 2018.
Researching People Without the Social Risk
There are many cases where you’d like to find out more about someone, but you’d rather do it privately. For example, there are estranged relatives, romantic interests, phone numbers on your spouse’s phone, business prospects, and more.
Searches on Facebook or other social media websites could feed it’s network knowledge and eventually result in affiliations that you’d rather avoid. A more secure way to search is to use directories of public data.
On PeopleFinders, you can search for names or phone numbers without your searches being tied to your social accounts. The results of a PeopleFinders search can reveal a deep background profile including address, contact information, criminal records, court records, bankruptcies, foreclosures, sex offender status, and more.
Information is power, and your searches on social media networks may be less private than you realize. A smarter way to search for people is to use PeopleFinders.