Thanks to recent changes to Facebook's privacy settings, marketers are now able to mine data from Facebook profiles that have limited their shared information to the least amount possible. Blogger Max Klein has found a loophole that allows marketers to compile consumers' name, age, and other personal data with the simple help of an email address.
According to Wired: "Given Facebook’s ubiquity and most people’s reliance on a single e-mail address, the harvest could be quite rich." But marketers have long been able to compile such data, and they don't necessarily need Facebook to do it.
"As Klein points out, a marketer could take a list of 1,000 e-mail addresses, either legally or illegally collected — and upload those through a dummy account — which then lets the user see all the profiles created using those addresses. Given Facebook’s ubiquity and most people’s reliance on a single e-mail address, the harvest could be quite rich.
Using a simple scraping tool, a marketer could then turn a list of e-mail addresses into a rich, full-fledged set of marketing profiles, with names, pictures, ages, locations, interests, photos, wall posts, affiliations and names of your friends, depending on how users have their profiles set. Run a few algorithms on that data and you can start to make inferences about race, income, sexual orientation and interests."
The change in Facebook's privacy settings at the end of the year makes it so that consumers' name, city, profile photo, gender and friend list are easily available. Together with an email address, that presents a pretty full profile for brands trying to reach out to consumers.
But while Facebook admits that anyone with a person's email address can now get this data, they also have some stop gaps in place to prevent marketer abuse. Facebook limits the number of email addresses that can be run through its system and blocks users who upload contacts at too high a rate.
That's not going to catch every marketer, since anyone can create numerous dummy accounts in efforts to mine data. But nefarious marketing tricks have been around forever. And anyone who has ever played some silly game on Facebook has already shared their data willingly. As Wired admits:
"Users should know that the information exposed in this little hack is not unlike that which is turned over to third-party applications whenever you or one of your friends installs an application, including such things as quizzes to decide what kind of pet you are."
There's no proof that brands are using this loophole, but brands that want to collect data regardless of how they get it will continue to do so. That doesn't mean something like this will become common practice, because it's really what you do with such data that is important. And blindly spamming consumers in a certain demographic or location isn't a very useful tactic.
Image: Facebook Pirates