3 мая 2024

Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are Spying on You. How to Protect Yourself?

In 2018, Facebook was caught collecting biometric data from its users without their consent. The data was collected through a facial recognition feature that was enabled by default for all users. Facebook used the data to create a database of face templates that could be used to identify users in photos and videos.

The collection of biometric data without consent is a serious privacy violation. Biometric data is unique to each individual and can be used to track and identify people without their knowledge or consent.

The Facebook data collection scandal raised serious concerns about the privacy practices of social media companies. It also highlighted the need for stronger laws to protect people’s biometric data.

In the wake of the scandal, Facebook has made changes to its facial recognition feature. Users are now required to opt in to the feature, and they can delete their face templates at any time. Facebook has also promised to be more transparent about how it collects and uses biometric data.

However, the Facebook scandal is a reminder that social media companies are constantly collecting data on their users. Three of the most popular social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok – have been known to collect face recognition data and access users’ contacts and image libraries.

This data can be used for a variety of purposes, including targeted advertising, facial recognition software, and even surveillance. While these companies claim to use this data responsibly, there is always the potential for it to be misused.

In this blog post, we will explain how to protect your privacy from data-hungry social media giants. We will provide step-by-step instructions on how to disable face recognition and contact access, and also offer some general tips on how to keep your data safe online.

Want to learn more about facial recognition? Read this article: Face Recognition vs. Face Detection: Understanding the Key Differences

How Does Facial Recognition Work on Social Media Platforms?

Facial recognition on social media platforms is a powerful tool that can be used to identify and tag people in photos and videos. It works by comparing the unique features of a person’s face to a database of known faces. When a new photo or video is uploaded, the platform’s facial recognition algorithm scans the faces in the image and compares them to the database. If a match is found, the person is identified and tagged in the post.

Facial recognition is used on social media platforms to improve the user experience in a number of ways. For example, it can be used to tag people in photos and videos: this makes it easy for users to find and share photos and videos of their friends and family.

Besides, social media platforms can use facial recognition to create personalized experiences for users, such as recommending friends to follow or suggesting posts that they might be interested in.

And, of course, facial recognition for its original pupose – to improve the security of social media platforms by helping to prevent unauthorized access to accounts.

However, facial recognition also raises a number of privacy concerns. For example, it can be used to track people’s movements and activities without their consent. It can also be used to identify people in photos and videos that they did not consent to being shared.

For example, in 2019, Facebook was sued by a group of celebrities, including actresses Halle Berry and Jennifer Lawrence, over the company’s use of facial recognition technology to identify them in photos and videos that they did not consent to being shared. The plaintiffs alleged that Facebook’s use of their images violated their privacy rights and caused them emotional distress.

Facebook’s facial recognition technology, called DeepFace, was developed in 2014. The technology allows Facebook to identify people in photos and videos, even if they are not tagged. Facebook uses DeepFace to automatically tag people in photos and videos, suggest friends to users, and power its facial recognition feature.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit argued that Facebook’s use of their images without their consent violated their privacy rights under the California Constitution and the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. They also alleged that Facebook’s use of their images caused them emotional distress.

The lawsuit was settled in 2021 for $650 million. Facebook agreed to change its facial recognition practices and to delete the facial recognition data it had collected on the plaintiffs. Meta (Facebook's parent company) announced in November 2021 that they were shutting down the system and deleting the facial recognition data of over a billion users. This means DeepFace, the underlying software, is no longer used for automatically recognizing people in photos and videos on Facebook but it's important to note that Facebook may still be using DeepFace technology for other purposes, though they haven't publicly disclosed any specifics.

The lawsuit was a significant victory for privacy advocates. It sent a message to companies that they cannot use people’s images without their consent. The lawsuit also helped to raise awareness of the privacy risks associated with facial recognition technology.

What Are the Potential Risks of Facial Recognition Technology?

One major concern is privacy. Facial recognition can create a vast database of individuals' faces, raising questions about consent and control over this personal data. Imagine someone identifying you in a photo without your permission, or even worse, a security breach exposing this data to malicious actors.

Security itself is another concern. Facial recognition systems are not foolproof. Inaccurate identifications could lead to mistaken identities, with potentially serious consequences. Additionally, these systems can be vulnerable to hacking, putting this sensitive data at risk.

Beyond privacy and security, there are broader societal implications. Facial recognition could be used for constant surveillance, chilling free speech and anonymity. There's also the potential for bias, with studies showing these systems can be less accurate for certain demographics.

How Do Social Media Collect Your Face Recognition Data?

Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok all collect face recognition data from their users. This data can be used to identify you, track your movements, and even manipulate your behavior.

Generally speaking, when you upload a photo or video to one of these platforms, the platform’s facial recognition software will scan the image for faces, and the platform will tag the person in the photo or video. Besides, when you give one of these platforms access to your contacts, the platform will scan your contacts for faces and add the person to your list of friends or followers.

Now let’s have a look at the methods social media platforms employ to gather face recognition data in more detail.

Automatic Facial Recognition (AFR)

AFR algorithms use deep learning to analyze facial features and extract unique identifiers. Social media apps integrate AFR with their cameras or image upload features. When users upload photos or videos, the algorithms detect and map their faces, creating a biometric template.

User-Generated Content Tagging

Platforms allow users to tag individuals in photos and videos. When users tag a person, the platform associates their face with their profile and account information. This provides a significant amount of labeled data for training and improving AFR algorithms.

Integration with Third-Party Apps

Social media apps often integrate with third-party apps that use face recognition technology. For example, Facebook acquired Face.com in 2012, gaining access to its advanced facial recognition capabilities. By partnering with these apps, social media platforms expand their data collection capabilities.

Facial Detection in Posts and Stories

Platforms automatically detect faces in user-generated content, even if they are not tagged. This allows them to create facial templates and associate them with the corresponding accounts. The data can be used to personalize content, enhance security features, and improve search and recommendation algorithms.

Face recognition data collection raises privacy concerns, as it can be used to track and identify individuals without their consent. This data could be misused for surveillance, discrimination, or other harmful purposes. Additionally, face recognition systems can be biased, leading to inaccurateordiscriminatory results, particularly for marginalized groups.

What data is Facebook collecting?

Facebook collects a vast amount of data from its users, including:

  • Your name and profile picture

  • Your email address and phone number

  • Your location

  • Your browsing history

  • Your search history

  • Your likes and dislikes

  • Your friends and followers

What data is Instagram collecting?

  • Profile information (name, username, bio, profile picture, email address, phone number)

  • Activity (posts, stories, likes, comments, shares, searches, messages)

  • Device and usage data (IP address, device type, operating system, browser information, usage patterns)

  • Location data (if enabled, Instagram collects location data from GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth)

  • Contacts (Instagram may collect your contacts if you grant permission)

  • Third-party data (Instagram may also collect data from third-party apps and websites that you connect to your account)

What data is TikTok collecting?

Information collected by TikTok may include, but is not limited to:

  • User profile information (name, username, bio, profile picture, and follower count)

  • Content information (videos liked, shared, or commented on, as well as comments made on videos)

  • Device information (device type, operating system, and IP address)

  • Location information (GPS data and Wi-Fi network information)

  • Usage information (how often the app is used and what features are used)

  • Contact information (phone number and email address if provided)

This data collection is a concern because it can be used in different ways, including with malicious purposes.

For example, social media companies can use your face recognition data to identify you, even if you are not logged into their platform. This can be used to track your movements, build a detailed picture of your daily routine, target you with advertising, or even blackmail you.

Besides, social media can use your data to manipulate your behavior. This can be used to influence your political views, your consumer choices, or even your mental health.

Moreover, TikTok does not explicitly declare that it collects facial biometrics, the platform can request access to your contacts and image library during setup. They claim this is for finding friends and helping you connect with people in your contacts who are already on TikTok. Another reason is creating videos, i.e. uploading videos or profile pictures from your library.

However, there is concern that TikTok (as well as other social media platforms) may be using this access to collect facial biometric data without users’ explicit consent. This data could be used for various purposes, such as targeted advertising, surveillance, or even facial recognition.

How to Disable Facial Recognition on Social Media Networks?


Facebook actually shut down its facial recognition system, DeepFace, in November 2021. This means the technology behind automatic photo and video tagging is no longer there. However, if you'd like to double-check your settings or were concerned about facial recognition in the past, here's how you could have disabled it:

  • Go to Settings & Privacy > Settings.

  • In the left menu, click on Face Recognition (if it's still available).

  • Look for the setting "Do you want Facebook to be able to recognize you in photos and videos?"

  • Click Edit and choose No.


Instagram actually doesn't use facial recognition technology. They clarified this in their help center, stating they use video selfies for verification purposes only, not to identify you in photos or videos.

Since Instagram doesn't currently use facial recognition, there's no specific setting to disable it. However, you can manage some related settings:

  • Face and Hand Effects. This controls the use of special effects that rely on facial recognition. You can find this setting in your profile under Settings > Privacy > Face and Hand Movements.

  • Login with Face ID/Touch ID. This uses your phone's biometric authentication for logging in, not Instagram's facial recognition. You can manage this in your phone's settings for the Instagram app.


Unfortunately, TikTok itself doesn't currently offer a built-in option to disable facial recognition. However, depending on your phone's operating system, you might have some workarounds:

For iPhone users:

  • TikTok doesn't directly utilize Face ID for app unlock.

  • You can disable Face ID entirely on your iPhone settings, but this affects other functionalities like Apple Pay.

For Android users:

  • Similar to iPhone, TikTok doesn't use built-in facial recognition features.

  • Some Android phones have facial unlock options. Check your phone's security settings to see if you can disable them.


Social media platforms are powerful tools for connecting with friends and family, sharing information, and staying up-to-date on current events. However, it is important to be aware of the privacy risks associated with using these platforms, including the collection of face recognition data.

By taking steps to protect your privacy, such as denying access to your contacts and image library, you can help to reduce the risk of your face recognition data being used without your consent. You should also be mindful of the photos you share on social media, and avoid sharing photos that could be used to identify you.

By following these tips, you can help to protect your privacy and keep your face recognition data out of the hands of unauthorized individuals.