The Social Dilemma reveals how our data is tracked

Tristan Harris, the former design ethicist at Google featured in the documentary, told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald many more people were disengaging from social media after watching it than he expected.

“The goal of the film is not just to get everybody to delete the apps off their phone,” he says. “We all know that that’s impossible to expect from everyone … I think what’s changed is that it’s creating a global shared consensus about a problem.”

To uncover the extent of the problem I set out to find out how much information I had willingly given to the technology giants over the years.


Requesting my data from Facebook, which is valued at $US774 billion ($1090 billion) and also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, took just 10 minutes to retrieve the 338 megabytes of data stored about me.

The information includes every time I’ve logged into Facebook, the IP addresses and locations I’ve logged in from, every photo I’ve posted, post that I’ve commented on, event invitations and every friend request I’ve ever rejected (sorry).

However Doctor Belinda Barnet, senior lecturer in media at Swinburne University, says this information is just the beginning of the data Facebook holds on me.

“What Facebook calls platform data is things they consider proprietary to them like the Like button, how long you hover over a post, or how fast you are scrolling, how you are interacting with the platform,” she says. “That betrays a lot of information about you, but you will never get that data. They don’t consider that you own it in the same way that you own the pictures that you post.”

All the information we put on Facebook is categorised and advertisers can use these categories to target advertising.

Advertisers can target based on relationship status of single, engaged, open relationship, separated, domestic partnership, civil union, divorced, widowed or ‘it’s complicated’ and based on life events such as a new job, newly wed, away from family or in a long-distance relationship.

Jim Stewart, founder of digital marketing agency StewArt Media, says the categorisation is so far-reaching that he can target people on Facebook who are interested in “pets (but only cats)” if he wants to.

He says advertisers can also target people who like travelling by accessing anyone who has posted a holiday picture on Facebook.

“You can volunteer your date of birth on Facebook but even if you don’t, Facebook can probably work it out algorithmically from the messages people post,” he says. “I call it scary creepy good because it is scary and creepy but the ability to target from a marketing standpoint is quite powerful.”

A spokesperson for Facebook wouldn’t comment on whether the platform is facing a user backlash as a result of the documentary and says the company’s user numbers continue to grow.

The spokesperson points to Facebook’s response to The Social Dilemma published earlier this month, where it takes issue with the documentary’s claims and says it buries…

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