Privacy Blog

"Friends don’t let friends get spied on.' – Richard Stallman, President of the Free Software Foundation and longtime advocate of privacy in technology.

On Facebook And Twitter Your Privacy Is At Risk — Even If You Don’t Have An Account

Strange, but true. According to a new study from the University of Vermont and the University of Adelaide:

“A new study shows that privacy on social media is like second-hand smoke. It’s controlled by the people around you.

“Individual choice has long been considered a bedrock principle of online privacy. If you don’t want to be on Facebook, you can leave or not sign up in the first place. Then your behavior will be your own private business, right? The new study presents powerful evidence that the answer to that question is no.”


“There’s no place to hide in a social network,” says Lewis Mitchell, a co-author on the new study.

Details may be found at

Categories: Online Privacy & Security

2 replies

  1. I read the article and I’m not understanding this. I have never been on FB or any other social media. My friends and family would have no reason whatsoever to mention me on FB. I stayed with my sister for several weeks. She kept her (incredibly boring) FB page up the entire time. Nothing on it had anything to do with me in any way shape or form. I’m fairly distant from my family, don’t interact with them more than once or twice a year and then only by phone or e-mail. For what it’s worth, I seem to be invisible on Google.

    Given all this… I’m not clear what the link would be between my online activities (always under a pseudonym) and the social media of people I know would be. I’m sure the study’s authors are correct, but am curious as to the mechanics of this crossover.


  2. Ducklady,

    Any and all Facebook users who know you may have given Facebook unlimited and continuous access to their contacts list, stored photos, emails, calendars, and messages, in which case Facebook has stored your name, phone numbers, address, email address, and possibly birthday. They have matched your name to your likeness if any of your friends and family have uploaded a single photo in which they tagged you. Facebook may even have stored your potential interests, status, or medical conditions, if they have analyzed the content of your friends’ emails and messages, and associated it all to you. From this surveillance activity, they have a ready-built schematic of your own social circle of friends and family, many or most of whom have maintained an open firehose of data about themselves (and other unwitting people) gushing into Facebook’s servers hour after hour for years and years.

    Most websites are now poisoned with hidden or obvious trackers from Facebook, Google, et al, all in the name of improving web analytics for the sites in question. These trackers associate your IP address to all your web browsing, including links you open from emails you receive. (Notice how nearly all businesses from whom you receive emails include links to Facebook?) The resulting profile assembled from all this tracking activity reveals a lot about you. (Think of all the searches you’ve done and the websites you’ve visited…ever.)

    With very little effort, Facebook can build a shadow profile on you without your ever having created an account with them. And who knows how long they store it? If you end up creating an account yourself, there is all that stored knowledge about you just waiting for Facebook to monetize. (Because, hey, it’s all about Facebook’s benevolent desire to connect people…right?)

    Fortunately you can protect yourself to some extent, by using a web browser, or multiple browsers, with settings and add-ons that block trackers and delete history and cookies when you say. Also, you can use a search engine that doesn’t record your activity (hint: it ain’t Google). You can set your email client to prevent remote content in emails. (For this reason, a client on your machine is better than webmail.) And you can subscribe to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to obfuscate your IP address.

    As for your acquaintances who use Facebook, all you can do is ask them to respect YOUR desire for privacy…probably ineffective, not only because they’re already addicted to Facebook and don’t care what they give up about other people, but also because Facebook intentionally obfuscates what it’s doing and glosses over privacy concerns as it sucks up everything your friends and family give it.

    I know this all sounds very “tinfoil hat,” but there’s no denying what’s going on.


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