Facebook has been in the news over the last few weeks for all the wrong reasons. After the Cambridge Analytica (CA) debacle, the world's largest social networking platform was put under the scanner for allowing an analytical firm mine user data without telling the users that their "private data" is being researched on.

The problem though is the way Facebook defines who data belongs to. A report by Popular Mechanics (PM) points out that Facebook assigns ownership of data to the uploader, not necessarily who the data is describing. For example, if Facebook user A uploads the address and phone number of person B who may or may not be on Facebook, the site recognizes this input as belonging to A, not B.

That is one of the reasons why it is difficult to truly remove oneself from Facebook. Even if a person removes their profile and deletes their data, some amount of information will remain because someone else might have uploaded it. This can include sensitive things like contact information.

When it comes to targeting adverts, it gets a bit murkier, notes the report. While Facebook might not be explicitly interested in specific user data, like pictures of cats and profile pictures or other such readily available information, it is definitely interested in user data or metadata. That simply means the info that the site gathers on how users behave inside it. What their likes are, what their motivations are, the devices that are used, the type of phone used, political leanings, religious leanings and so forth.

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of FacebookReuters

Facebook adverts are targeted based on what Facebook thinks of its users, not what users want Facebook to think of them. That is why it is possible for Facebook to target the right person in its millions of people with ads that are tailor-made for them.

A PM report points out that while people have a general idea how ads are targeted at them, for example, where they live and what they last searched for. However, it might come as a shock that ad targeting can go down to granular details like what characteristics a user might share with someone else who has just, for example, purchased gluten-free, vegan food based on their interactions on Facebook. Data like this will be logged somewhere even if the user has never really explicitly searched for vegan food, notes the report.

This could be one of the reasons why people tend to get uneasy when they see ads for things they were "thinking about" or "just talking to a friend about". Every action on Facebook is logged and recorded. Facebook, notes the report, is second only to Google when it comes to revenue through adverts. They made $40 billion last year selling ads alone and in spite of promising to not continue to work with third-party data brokers. The PM report says that they are only set to make a lot more ad money this year.

Using Facebook is optional, but keeping data and personal information out of it might not be entirely up to each person.