When you sign up for Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media app, it typically asks you to upload your contacts. Doing so helps the app find and surface friends who have accounts, but there’s a tradeoff: your contacts often contain a trove of data about people who don’t use their apps.
That’s a bummer if you avoid a given tech platform because you’re worried about protecting your personal information. Thanks to your “friends” uploading their contacts, tech companies are getting your data anyway. But Facebook has taken an unusually proactive step. The platform has rolled out a new tool that lets non-users delete their contact info and tell Facebook not to collect it in the future, as reported by Insider.
The tool lets you enter your phone number or your email. Meta will search across Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger to see if they have your contacts. If Meta finds your information, it will delete the data and prevent it from being uploaded again.
The only problem? Facebook released this tool so quietly it might as well be a secret. Head to Facebook’s byzantine Help documents and you might eventually find yourself on a page with tips for people who don’t use Meta products (Meta is Facebook’s parent company). It’s hard to imagine you’d be digging through Facebook’s Help menu if you don’t use Facebook, and even less likely that you would think to click on a vaguely labeled link about your rights as a non-Meta user.
Meta deserves some credit here: this isn’t a feature that most platforms offer. But for some critics, it will be too little too late. The company faced a slew of controversies for misusing contact information it gathered through indirect methods. In 2018 Gizmodo found that Facebook lets advertisers target “shadow profiles” using contact information that people provided indirectly, either through friend’s contact lists or during the registration process for two-factor authentication.
Facebook and its parent company aren’t uniquely guilty here, though. Harvesting information that people aren’t giving up voluntarily is big business. For example, TikTok, like Meta and tons of other companies, has trackers all over the internet collecting data on websites where you probably wouldn’t expect to find them.
If you’re don’t use Meta’s services and want to protect your personal information, its’ worth taking a few minutes to go through and delete the data. It’s nothing close to total protection from the company’s empire of personal information, but it’s better than nothing.