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Facebook rewrites its data policy to make it easier to understand

Settle down with a cup of joe and read through these two important documents today.
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In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has been trying to make it easier for people to understand how their data is used on the service and how to keep their information private. Along those same lines, today the company has released a more straightforward reading of its terms of service and data policy. As of today, Facebook says that "we're not asking for new rights to collect, use or share your data on Facebook. We're also not changing any of the privacy choices you've made in the past." Rather than making large-scale changes, the company is being more up-front about just what you're giving away when you sign up for Facebook.

For the next week, users can give feedback on both documents, after which Facebook will show finalized versions to all its users and ask them to agree to the terms. As for what's new here, Facebook outlined seven different categories, including new features and tools, personalization, what the company shares, advertising, device information, addressing harmful behavior, and how data is shared between Facebook and other companies it owns (like Oculus and WhatsApp).

While both of these documents are lengthy, they're a lot shorter than the usual terms of service you might encounter when signing up for a service -- they're also fairly easy to understand at a high level. Naturally, the data policy is quite in-depth, but it's worth spending the time reading to really understand exactly what Facebook can do with the information you share. If nothing else, it'll help you figure out how to limit how much of your data the company can share with others.

Given how the Cambridge Analytica scandal unfolded, perhaps one of the most important sections to read is in the data policy where Facebook explains how third-party apps and services can gain access and share information about you:

When you choose to use third-party apps, websites, or other services that use, or are integrated with, our Products, they can receive information about what you post or share. For example, when you play a game with your Facebook friends or use a Facebook Comment or Share button on a website, the game developer or website can receive information about your activities in the game or receive a comment or link that you share from the website on Facebook. Also, when you download or use such third-party services, they can access your public profile on Facebook, and any information that you share with them. Apps and websites you use may receive your list of Facebook friends if you choose to share it with them. But apps and websites you use will not be able to receive any other information about your Facebook friends from you, or information about any of your Instagram followers (although your friends and followers may, of course, choose to share this information themselves). Information collected by these third-party services is subject to their own terms and policies, not this one.

Another noteworthy section of the data policy outlines exactly what the company knows about the various devices you use Facebook on. In short, it's a lot, including your device's "operating system, hardware and software versions, battery level, signal strength, available storage space, browser type, app and file names and types, and plugins." That's just for starters -- it can also access "Bluetooth signals and information about nearby WiFi access points, beacons, and cell towers." Being able to access is different than sharing with other companies, and there's no indication that any of this data leaves Facebook, but it adds to the concerning thought of just how much this company knows about its users.

Finally, Facebook outlines exactly how much information it can get about your activities when you're not using Facebook. Through technologies that third-party sites can implement like the Facebook Pixel, Facebook can get information from its partners including: "information about your device, websites you visit, purchases you make, the ads you see, and how you use [third-party] services -- whether or not you have a Facebook account or are logged into Facebook." Sadly, it's just a fact of live in the advertising-driven world we live in now -- even without a Facebook account, the company can get all kinds of data about what you do online. (That is, unless you install software to block Facebook's tracking tools.)

Basically, if you've ever used Facebook for any length of time and have any interest in keeping your account active, read these two documents. After you're done, you may or may not change your mind -- but at the very least, you'll be better informed about what the company is doing with the mountains of information it can get about you and your online behavior.

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