BUSINESS

Facebook Also Collects What You Decide Not To Post, Tech Consultant Warns

04/23/2015 11:07 EDT | Updated 06/23/2015 05:59 EDT
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Have you ever typed a post or comment into Facebook, realized it was too stupid or offensive, and decided not to post it?

It looks like Facebook collected that thought anyway, warns an Irish tech consultant.

Priomh O hUiginn posted on his blog earlier in April that he made the discovery while inspecting Facebook with some web developer tools that let you see what a website is doing behind the scenes.

He typed in some text into the status update box that invites you to share "What's on your mind?" and found that even though he didn't hit send, Facebook sent an HTTP post request — an instruction to its server to store the body of the message.

"This is outright Orwellian," O hUiginn wrote.

He added later, "This raises issues relating to a lack of informed consent …. The collection of unpublished information is a nonsense and needs to stop."

CBC has sent a request to Facebook asking for comment on the blog post.

Facebook says in its current data policy that it collects "the content and other information you provide when you use our Services, including when you sign up for an account, create or share, and message or communicate with others." 

O hUiginn suggests that Facebook doesn't clearly indicate to users that it's collecting this type of information. 

Jennifer Golbeck, director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland, made a similar criticism in a 2013 article in Slate, but said when she brought that up with Facebook, "a representative told me that the company believes this self-censorship is a type of interaction covered by the policy."

Facebook studied self-censorship

O hUiginn notes that Facebook indicated in a 2013 report co-authored by one of its own researchers that it collects at least some information about text that's typed and never posted.

The study, a collaboration with a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, found that kind of self-censorship to be very common — 71 per cent of 3.9 million users self-censored at least one post at the last minute during a 17-day period. In the study, the researchers said that for the purposes of the study, they recorded whether at least five characters were typed into the box, not the content.

Despite O hUiginn's concerns, he says he still uses Facebook "and will happily trade my personal information for the convenience it provides, and the reach it gives me to my social graph."

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