Facebook is Watching You

A post in the Subreddit r/Facebook on Wednesday claims to show you how to identify people you don’t know who view your profile. It raises a serious question:

Is Facebook recording every move you make on the social network?

How would you feel if you knew if Facebook recorded your name, location, action and time of day anytime you VISITED another page or profile? We’re not even talking about interactions like clicks, comments or shares. Just page visits with no interactions. Keep in mind that people freak out at Google for leaving a cookie on their browser to anonymously track visited sites. Does it give you the creeps that Facebook can match all your internet habits to a name, face and location?

The Reddit post mentioned above does show some evidence that this is happening and here’s a walk through to see it:

Tools You’ll Need

  • Facebook personal profile
  • Firefox browser with Firebug installed or a Chrome browser

Here’s the Process

1. Sign into your Facebook Profile

From your profile page, click Inspect element. In Firefox, use the Firebug plugin. In Chrome, right-click and inspect element.

2. Click on the Network tab

In Chrome this is obvious, but in Firefox, the tab is called “Net.” Next, click on the XHR tab.


Screenshot from Chrome



Screenshot from Firefox


3. Hard refresh the page

On a PC, hard-refresh is Shift+Ctrl+R. On Mac, it’s Control+Command+F5. Next, look for the file bootstrap.php, there should be two files. The first will list all the Facebook pages you interact with and the second will tell you all the Facebook profiles you have interacted with and the profiles that have interacted with you.

4. Click on the bootstrap.php Tab, Then Click the Response Tab

Some people in the office didn’t find any results right away. As a workaround, visit a Facebook page or profile that hasn’t upgraded to timeline, refresh your browser and try the whole process again.

What’s in the Code?

In the response tab, you’ll see profiles listed in order of most recent interactions. You’ll recognize a lot of family and friends, but trust me; it gets pretty interesting when you find someone you don’t recognize.

Here’s an example of what we found:

Facebook Stalker Code

If you need more help, we’re hosting this Facebook Personal Bootstrap File Viewer, which inserts profile pictures next to the results.

Here’s a snapshot of who has influenced my profile lately:

Facebook Personal Bootstrap Results

Why Does Facebook Keep These Records?

We don’t know for sure, but our best guess is that Facebook uses this information for its personalized Facebook search function. If you search for a profile or page that you’ve visited in the past, that profile or page will most likely be the top result.

We also found that Facebook associates “tokens” with the first names of profile owners. For example, someone named “Josh” will also have the token “Joshua.” This is one of the reasons why when you use Facebook search for someone named “Robert” and you get results for people named “Bob.”

Is this Life Changing Information?

Luckily, all of these results remain personalized information. For instance, I can’t view any of this data for another person’s profile. And as far as we know, Facebook brand pages can’t access this data… yet.

But with NSA data centers going up in the Utah desert, the implications for this kind of data, stored in direct connection to your identity, are a little spooky.

Could someone use this information to, say, pull a record of every person who has visited a page related to the Koran? Or who made a negative remark about a past or current President? Liked a page opposing/supporting a war?

How much is TOO MUCH information?

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  1. Ok, so Facebook knows which profile pages a user has visited. That’s hardly news, isn’t it?
    What is more troublesome, is that a Facebook app which a user has granted access to his basic profile information can access this information and maybe store it for later use. Why does Facebook make this data accessible in such a way?

  2. There’s a simple reason why facebook is recording all this data, in my opinion.
    Facebook will be launching Facebook Ads on external websites. They will be using this personalized information for targeting.
    As marketers, we’ll be happy to pay extraordinary CPC for advertising on the web using the data and segmentation Facebook is offering.

  3. I agree Frank, FB harnessing profile info is one thing albeit alarming, but the apps that people allow access to their profile info and their friends profile info are operated by who knows and for what purpose?
    I wonder how soon we will see the development of a private social network that protects personal and shared information? 1.99 a month?

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