Facebook Found My Old Psychologist And Suggested Him As A Friend

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So the "suggested friends" tab... I don't mind it to be honest. I can usually lose a sneaky half hour Facebooking people from my past, or people connected to my present, at the not-so-subtle request of Mark Zuckerberg's algorithms. I don't normally think too carefully about how they come up with this list, but then I've never had cause to. Until today, that is.

So today, I log on, and a name I vaguely remember pops up. A little mental digging, and it turns out it was a psychologist I had 3 sessions with in mid-2014. I was directed there by a psychiatrist, I booked an appointment via his receptionist, I probably googled him once or twice in early 2014, and that's it. I never once posted publicly about him on Facebook, I never posted about him on Twitter or Instagram, and the only time I would have mentioned him would have been via Facebook messenger, probably with my mum, girlfriend, or sister. We also have no mutual friends, and he doesn't appear in my phone's contact list.

So how in the world did Facebook dig this name up, and suggest that I become friends with a psychologist I had a private, professional interaction with? I've been in the system for a little while, and doctors ask for my consent before they share information with one another about me. How did Facebook gather this information? Is it ethical for them to know that I am linked to this person? Who else did they share this information with? I'm not a conspiracy theorist, and I actually like that Google and Facebook gather information on me and target my advertisements. But this is too far, these are medical records and private appointments. I'm not concerned about being linked with this psychologist, but if these are things Facebook can find on me, what can they find out about you? What can future employers then find out? What about potential partners? There's a reason medical records are private. 

To try and make sense of this, let's look at how Facebook finds possible friends. This is their official word: 
People You May Know are people on Facebook that you might know. We show you people based on mutual friends, work and education information, networks you’re part of, contacts you’ve imported and many other factors.
None of this explains why this person appeared on my suggested friends list. Around mid-2016, a number of outlets began reporting concerning behaviour by Facebook with regards to suggested friends. MamaMia collated a bunch of rumours and reddit theories in this article, Forbes floated a couple of theories here, but the creepiest by far was this report from Recode, published in October 2016. In it, writers Jason and Kurt revealed a number of highly suspicious coincidences; for example, Jason walked past an acquaintance, no dialogue passed between them, and just hours later Jason appeared in that person's recommendations. Here's another, probably more relevant to my story:
Jason met with a company spokesperson he hadn’t previously met. Within a few hours, that person appeared at the top of Jason’s recommendations.
So the guys from Recode asked Facebook some questions, and these are some selected answers:

  • When finding recommended friends, Facebook doesn't use your location.
  • It does use your phone contacts (if you've elected to share them with Facebook or Messenger).
  • It doesn't use your calls or text messages (unless made through Messenger, I assume).
  • It doesn't use your email.
  • It doesn't gather information from any third-party websites, so I assuming Google is out if LinkedIn is out.

All of that information can be found here. The article was published by Recode.net on October 1 2016, and the article was written by Kurt Wagner and Jason Del Rey.

If we take those answers by the Facebook spokesperson as the truth, how did they come up with my former psychologist, a man I haven't spoken to since 2014, as a friend recommendation? If I look back, I checked into his medical centre 3 times on Foursquare (I've since deleted those check-ins). This doesn't really hold up, because there were 10-20 other doctors working out of the same facility.  I have 3 email chains with his name listed, all from 3 months in 2014. I've deleted every tweet I have posted pre-2016, and I would never have tweeted about this. So here are the 4 possibilities I can see:
  • I was featured in this article about exercise addiction in December 2014, and the psychologist provided quotes and insight for the piece, but we didn't speak about that, nor did I have any contact with him during or after the writing process.
  • I recently posted this story about my own mental health battle, and the importance of psychological intervention if someone is struggling mentally. It's possible he read the post somehow and googled or Facebooked me. I believe this to be incredibly unlikely. 
  • Facebook may have access to parts of my life I deem private, such as my email account and my Messenger conversations. .
  • I have posted about it on social media and plain forgot. This seems unlikely, I don't know under what circumstances I'd share that I was seeing an eating disorder psychologist unless I mention him in a blog post somewhere, and a quick search of this blog reveals I've never used his name in any post..
So, what is it? Have you had any weird suggested friends pop up? Is there a simple explanation for this that I'm missing? 




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