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Snippet: Facebook Already Has a Muslim Registry—and It Should Be Deleted ☇

Shared on December 22, 2016

Peter Bright for Ars Technica:

One company, however, stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to collecting personal data: Facebook. Facebook’s business is data collection in order to sell more effectively targeted advertisements. While massive data collection is not new or unique to Facebook—search engines such as Google and Microsoft’s Bing have the same feature—Facebook is unusual in that it actively strives to make that information personally identifiable. Facebook accounts tend to use our legal names, and Facebook relationships tend to reflect our real-life associations, giving the company’s data a depth and breadth that Google or Microsoft can only dream about.

Among the pieces of personal information that the site asks users for is religion. As with most pieces of information that Facebook requests, this is of course optional. But it’s an option that many people fill in to ensure that our profiles better reflect who we are.

This data collection means that Facebook already represents, among other things, a de facto—if partial—Muslim registry. Facebook has the data already; the company can provide a list of self-attested Muslims in the US simply by writing a query or two. That data could be similarly queried for anyone who isn’t straight.

As such, government coercion of Facebook—or even a hack of the company—represents a particular threat to civil liberties. Accordingly, Facebook should take a simple and straightforward protective step: delete that information. Remove the field from our profiles, and discard the historic saved data.

None of this should be a surprise, and my dislike of Facebook has been well-documented, but this still should get us thinking about what kinds of information we willing volunteer to some technology companies.

Snippets are posts that share a linked item with a bit of commentary.