Among the mega-corporations that surveil you, your cellphone carrier has always been one of the keenest monitors, in constant contact with the one small device you keep on you at almost every moment. A confidential Facebook document reviewed by The Intercept shows that the social network courts carriers, along with phone makers — some 100 different companies in 50 countries — by offering the use of even more surveillance data, pulled straight from your smartphone by Facebook itself. Offered to select Facebook partners, the data includes not just technical information about Facebook members’ devices and use of Wi-Fi and cellular networks, but also their past locations, interests, and even their social groups. This data is sourced not just from the company’s main iOS and Android apps, but from Instagram and Messenger as well. The data has been used by Facebook partners to assess their standing against competitors, including customers lost to and won from them, but also for more controversial uses like racially targeted ads. Some experts are particularly alarmed that Facebook has marketed the use of the information — and appears to have helped directly facilitate its use, along with other Facebook data — for the purpose of screening customers on the basis of likely creditworthiness. Such use could potentially run afoul of federal law, which tightly governs credit assessments. (…) But Facebook’s “Actionable Insights,” a corporate data-sharing program, suggests that even the incredible visibility telecoms have into your daily life isn’t enough — and Zuckerberg et al. can do them one better. Actionable Insights was announced last year in an innocuous, easy-to-miss post on Facebook’s engineering blog. The article, titled “Announcing tools to help partners improve connectivity,” strongly suggested that the program was primarily aimed at solving weak cellular data connections around the world. “To address this problem,” the post began, “we are building a diverse set of technologies, products, and partnerships designed to expand the boundaries of existing connectivity quality and performance, catalyze new market segments, and bring better access to the unconnected.” What sort of monster would stand against better access for the unconnected? The blog post makes only a brief mention of Actionable Insights’ second, less altruistic purpose: “enabling better business decisions” through “analytics tools.” According to materials reviewed by The Intercept and a source directly familiar with the program, the real boon of Actionable Insights lies not in its ability to fix spotty connections, but to help chosen corporations use your personal data to buy more tightly targeted advertising. (…) The confidential Facebook document provides an overview of Actionable Insights and espouses its benefits to potential corporate users. It shows how the program, ostensibly created to help improve underserved cellular customers, is pulling in far more data than how many bars you’re getting. According to one portion of the presentation, the Facebook mobile app harvests and packages eight different categories of information for use by over 100 different telecom companies in over 50 different countries around the world, including usage data from the phones of children as young as 13. These categories include use of video, demographics, location, use of Wi-Fi and cellular networks, personal interests, device information, and friend homophily, an academic term of art. A 2017 article on social media friendship from the Journal of the Society of Multivariate Experimental Psychology defined “homophily” in this context as “the tendency of nodes to form relations with those who are similar to themselves.” In other words, Facebook is using your phone to not only provide behavioral data about you to cellphone carriers, but about your friends as well. From these eight categories alone, a third party could learn an extraordinary amount about patterns of users’ daily life, and although the document claims that the data collected through the program is “aggregated and anonymized,” academic studies have found time and again that so-called anonymized user data can be easily de-anonymized. Today, such claims of anonymization and aggregation are essentially boilerplate from companies who wager you’ll be comfortable with them possessing a mammoth trove of personal observations and behavioral predictions about your past and future if the underlying data is sufficiently neutered and grouped with your neighbor’s.
via intercept: Thanks to Facebook, Your Cellphone Company Is Watching You More Closely Than Ever