What the free services on the Internet hide

Technology News

If a service is free it is because the product is you; it is the painful reality against which to collide in many sectors. When you download a free app, when you give up personal data in exchange for participating in a juicy raffle or even when you enjoy going to a disco or the first free drink without paying. The market is governed by supply and demand, the bank always wins and all these ‘gifts’ can be more poisoned than Snow White’s apple.

In late January, Facebook made a show of transparency ( Cambridge Analytica offered a lot to learn from) and launched the ‘off-Facebook activity’ tool. The name itself is food for thought, it is an open voice confession of something we already knew: the social network also tracks its users off the platform. Welcome to ‘Big Brother’.

In short, it is the activity that businesses and organizations share with the service on user interactions outside of the application: visits to websites, application downloads, donations to NGOs and a long etcetera. Are you clueless with the passwords and prefer to log into third-party sites with Facebook? Hunted, the social network already knows something more about you. If the company you signed in uses Facebook’s pixel tool, now Mark Zuckerberg knows you bought that Baby Yoda t-shirt at a merchandise store.

Is this a revelation? Not at all, that the social network does a more or less thorough monitoring of its users was common knowledge . Facebook is a free service that allows you to share kitten memes, news, photos from the last vacation in Rome with relatives and strangers from all over the world and torment all contacts with requests for lives for Candy Crush. In return, users ‘kindly’ give their data.

What is Facebook doing with this information as a result of legal stalking? Advertising and more advertising. The social network gets to know its users so well that it completely personalizes the experience of offering recommendations for products, groups, events, organizations or new brands.

Do not panic: the social network does not cease in its efforts to regain the trust of users, so it allows access to all this history and even delete and modify part of it. You also have the option of downloading the entire history or during a time slot, for later review; perfect for the most meticulous.

To access this unauthorized bio from the browser, just press the inverted triangle in the upper right. After selecting ‘ settings ‘, click on ‘your Facebook information’. Different options are shown here; directly download all the history, the activity log within the social network and what concerns us, ‘activity outside Facebook’.

In order to view some of this data, the service claims to enter the password again, which is logical, since information such as location, logins or search histories are sensitive data. Is this all that the social network knows about the habits of its users? No. Facebook, in its particular FAQ, recognizes that in this tool “not all your activity appears”.

For example, the summary does not contain the most recent activity, which may take a few days to appear. The dates correspond to when Facebook received the data. In addition, the service explains that it receives more details than those that appear in the activity outside of Facebook. Transparency? They claim that “for technical and precision reasons, they don’t show all activity” such as the information they received when they were not logged into Facebook or details such as the item you added to your cart.

Can we escape the networks of the social network? Yes. If you choose to disconnect the history, the activity that is shown in the summary and the one that is not shown will be disconnected. In addition, the service clarifies that “it does not sell the information to anyone” (the profits are obtained from personalized advertising) and that “it prohibits businesses and organizations from sharing confidential information such as financial information, health information, date of birth and passwords.” Minimal relief.


Facebook has not invented penicillin; its business model is not new. Free software (not to be confused with free software, a ‘philosophy’ that has nothing to do with the above) is never completely free, the payment is your data and / or being exposed to a lot of advertising. This is a typical model of mobile games, its ‘free’ version is full of advertising banners that can be removed by paying.

Currently, 60% of daily activity goes through digital instruments. Something that multiplies if you also fall asleep with a sleep monitoring instrument (there are those that capture even the audio of snoring), a cyberpunk delusion .

This information is what is called the industry of “alternative data” or alternative data according to its English name. Without going any further, the information collected by companies has proven to be invaluable within the economy. One example is that last year, financial fund managers invested more than $ 1 billion in alternative data collection and analysis structures.

This industry is good, financially, for companies, but bad for user privacy. The data collected not only serves to display advertising on demand as is the case with Facebook; other companies collect the activity and sell it to third parties. According to data from AlternativeData’s group of analysts, there are currently more than 450 alternative data providers. A number that has quadrupled in the last decade.


It is true that it can be a bit terrifying the fact that several companies know our consumption habits, tastes, locations and even health status (heart rate, sleep data), it is something to deal with as technology advances, allowing obtain more and more precise and detailed data, also causing the concept of privacy to be constantly changing.

An example would be the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the political consulting firm that illegally collected data on 87 million Facebook profiles in an effort to aid Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The incident resulted in billions of dollars in fines for Facebook, but it also served as a gigantic wake-up call for Internet users.

Another danger would be negligence in the management and administration of data. In the last decade there have been many cases of theft of bank data and passwords of users of platforms for the sale of digital content, some as notorious as the scandal that affected millions of people registered on the Ashley Madison platform in 2015 .

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