Hack Your Own Facebook Data with This Spooky Tool

Facebook knows about your past, present, and likely future. But how do they know this information? Data Selfie is a creepy new tool that will give you an answer. The free plugin provides a gateway into the data mining and predictive analytics that is used by Facebook to create your online identity. 

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Facebook knows about your past, present, and likely future. The world's largest social network has a tremendous level of insight into your life, but HOW do they gain this insight?


Data Selfie is a spooky new browser extension that can give you an answer.

The free plugin tracks all the digital breadcrumbs you would leave behind when using Facebook (hint: it's a lot of breadcrumbs) and creates your personality profile. The goal of Data Selfie is to have a heightened awareness about the data you give out and a better understanding of how Facebook's machine learning algorithms are likely employed when profiling you.

Data Selfie - Chrome extension from DATA X on Vimeo.

While what you see is not the actual data that Facebook is using, the tool gives you a behind-the-scenes understanding of how profiling is done. Given the rise of psychometric micro-targeting utilized by advertisers and political campaigns, it is prudent to have a better grasp into the tremendous amount of data collection and crunching that happens with every comment, post, and like. 

"The tool explores our relationship to the online data we leave behind as a result of media consumption and social networks - the information you share consciously and unconsciously."-DataSelfie.it

Given the significant amount of personal data that is given in order to see how Facebook's profiling likely works, Data Selfie assures users that the content you see stays private. Data collected is only stored on your devices, with no databases or cloud storage. Data Selfie is a project created by Regina Flores Mir and Hang Do Thi Duc, with the initial seed funding through NYC Media Lab Combine Program.

Why Is This Important?

The average American Facebook user is on the platform for over 50 minutes a day. There are are a lot of interactions that happen in that amount of time, and a lot of data that can be crunched into fine-tuning a personality profile. As a Facebook user, you have a rich and detailed online identity available to the company. Data Selfie provides a gateway into the data mining and predictive analytics that is used to create that online identity. 

Facebook, like most social media companies and popular apps, utilizes the free-in-exchange-for-data business model. Instead of giving Facebook a monthly fee, you are giving over your data. Whereas in a typical business transaction you are fully cognizant of the value you are giving (i.e. I will give you $200 in exchange for your couch), the value users give through data is often shrouded in mystery.   

Data Selfie allows you to have a better picture as to what you are giving in exchange for using the platform. The data you are submitting both intentionally and unintentionally is extremely valuable to Facebook (and other companies). Data Selfie offers a needed level of transparency with the data-exchange process and profiling used by advertisers. 

Here is the million dollar question: will insight into how your digital footprint is created cause you to walk differently online? 

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Want to connect with me? Reach out @TechEthicist and on Facebook

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

Harvard study finds perfect blend of fruits and vegetables to lower risk of death

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Credit: Pixabay
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The common cuttlefish

Credit: Hans Hillewaert via Wikicommons
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  • Scientists recently ran the Stanford marshmallow experiment on cuttlefish and found they were pretty good at it.
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