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You Are What You Type: Facebook Tracks What You Decide Not to Post

ImageWe all do it: start typing into the status update bar on Facebook and then use our (better) judgment to delete those thoughts and not share them with the world.

Facebook calls it “self-censorship,” and according to a report by Slate’ s Jennifer Golbeck, the social network has been tracking and studying our unpublished thoughts. Put simply: Facebook is analyzing the posts that you have consciously decided to not share.

Tracking Self Censored Posts

Collecting this information from more than five million users during 17 days over the summer of 2012, Facebook researchers, Adam Kramer, a data scientist and Sauvik Das, a summer intern, tracked and analyzed self-censored content. (Read the full report here.)

Using the Javascript code already in your browser, Facebook was able to examine not only the status updates you intentionally choose not to share, but also the comments and posts you started to type out to your friends but then decided not to post. (This is the same technology Google uses in Gmail to save your e-mails as draft even though you have not hit save or send.)

Kramer and Das are quick to point out that the exact words and phrases were not tracked; instead the focus was on metadata. Facebook claims that this type of tracking is well within its current Terms of Service and Data Use Policy. According to Golbeck, Facebook defines these unpublished posts as an “interaction” which is covered under the policy. You can be the judge of that by reading more here.

What’s Gained By Facebook (But Lost By You)?

Even though Kramer and Das didn’t spy the exact content of your self-censored posts, they still captured a lot of data during their study and thus learned a lot about you. They know that during the study the average user holds back on 4.52 statuses and 3.2 comments. They also examined the demographic of your audience to determine who you were planning to post the update for and why the composition of this audience might have hindered your sharing.

For Facebook, anything you post adds a value to the network. Remember that the site makes its money by serving you advertisements and sponsored content in the NewsFeed and right hand rail. Everything you post, all your interests, who you interact most with, what you click on (etc.) gets measured, recorded and analyzed so that Facebook can serve you more tailored ads (and make more money). When a user decides to not post something, Facebook loses that content and thus, loses value.

According to Facebook, this study was completed to learn more about these acts of self-censorship in order to mitigate them from happening in the future. If the network can understand why a user decides not to post, it can make the features of the site more conducive for sharing so that way self-censorship happens less and less.

Make It Stop

Facebook may have its reasons, but it doesn’t mean that they are justified. Additionally, who is to say that Facebook won’t begin to track the keystrokes of self-censored posts in the future? The technology to this is already there so if Facebook wants this data they can easily get it.

While a personal VPN could protect you while using Facebook's "free" WiFi, at this juncture there are two ways for users to stop their self-censored posts from being tracked. First, stop using Facebook, and second, block JavaScript from your browser by using a plug in like NoScript.

Do you think Facebook has the right to track the things you didn’t post? Tell us in the comments.

Join The Conversation

  • Michele Engel's picture
    Dec 29 Posted 3 years ago Michele Engel

    The U.S. Consitution protects your right to privacy under most conditions.  When you register for an account on a social media site (or any internet website, for that matter), you agree to certain terms.  If those terms modify your right to privacy while on that site, then YOU are responsible for giving some or all of them away.  You have the freedom to choose not to socialize (or do anything, for that matter) online.  You do not need to use the internet to buy most things or to socialize or even to get health insurance coverage under the ACA.  People who have given up some rights to privacy on Facebook or any other website have done so voluntarily. If you don't like it, don't participate.

  • Dec 28 Posted 3 years ago Lydia Heather B...

    I wonder how many of those uposted statuses and comments were due to a computer freeze or forgetting the comment after switching tabs. I know the majority of things I've typed but not posted are usually unposted due to the reasons I mentioned above.

  • Dec 24 Posted 3 years ago Illuminaluna

    Wow, thank you! It was utterly astonishing to find through a simple search out of curiosity, as i love researching everything all the time (a hobby)? but some of the "private messages" or posts in what should be confidential and comfortable being the reason why you are there in the first place exposes your entire world!

    I felt on a small scale like a social rape, or a robbery of some sort, due to the not only privacy, violation of my first ammendment (since some sites won't allow you to post silly things sometimes *(see below), yet breaching my very own privacy totally violated and contradicting to my  freedom of speech (which is truly the most ludicrious and hypocritical ammandment to most sites anyways as they make the law, so to speak (*see below)! Most people, espessially when younger do not realize that absolutely EVERYTHING you post, even if it is deleted immidetaly, it remains forever there for anyone to bring back for some people unfortuanately! Now this!!!!!! What is is the "thought police" to prevent a crime of thinking, dreaming, beleiving or imagining! I feel like I am in Oswells "1988," where we sstill had majority of rights and freedoms but Big brother is everywhere, we are being traced, followed, stored, geotagged the point we feel at some degree we must stop, but they know they have you, on tight grip and you can't!  I could not live happily without my toll of the technology super highway!I mean one is now unable to think to use it or throw back into my face causing problems and hauting my future potentially forever!

    This is so wrong and unjustifiable in EVERYWAY you look at it! Everything they ever do has always been the same leading back to only one word everyone "Propaganda!" I will still continue to post my thoughts, beleifs and feelings, especially about the shortcomings and wrongdoings of the Control system! As well as formulate and spread powerful messages through blogging of important information as you have just done here. I thank you for this information! I now know it it is more spineless and corrupt, if it could get much worse, you have proved that it does. I will spread the word!

    (*)I mentioned the right to freedom of speech, as the right on most sites does not exist as you are not to say this, give suggestions for that...which to me gives the entire site no substance of value with limiting, narrowminded way of working! Especially when you can't cite somethng that has no measurable test or fact behind it, the scientists says if they can not prove it=wrong! No No and No! A belief, a placeboe even is fact, has happened to many, thereby deemed a "theory!" Yet we live this way, and the greatest minds of our times have Even silly little things like when signing up my user name! It said literally "I had used an illegal character" in my user name! lolololol! Truly, what the heck is an illegal character, yet right to freedom of speech! BTW, it was the name of a butterfly species, not anything foul! The world is crazy and making no sense at all, hense I keep repeating and teeling the masses to make use of the right side of the brain that has been on vacation, as well as the extended holiday of criticle thinking! Do ask questions, do not go with blind faith, and usually, if it is bad on the media for you, I will do the EXACT opposite, lol! As crazy as that sounds I have been fine thusfar. Unless you do not get this post, if the thought security decide to intercept and deem it as anything to avoid the truth! Please don't! Since I ended up here, and not on original page after signing in, I really don't want to go back after this, so does anyone know what the proper abbreviation would be at end of letter using spirit name?

    For example My name is 'Chis Smith" Given Name, and Surname., I could use AKA, otherize known as, but that sounds like a nickname and a little cheezy (my opinion)! My spiritually given name is quite long so I use variations, so the "illegal" one was Actia??????? How would I end my note. Sincerely, Chris Smith GSN: (given spirit name) or just SN., no one will even know what that means leading to more confusion, so if there isn't one already floating through cyberspace, I suggest we invent one, any ideas.

    Thanks guys, you are wonderful!


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