If you just can’t get rid of Facebook yet, here’s how to lock down what the platform can do with your personal data

As new details emerge about the massive scale of the harvesting of Facebook profiles by Cambridge Analytica to fuel politically targeted advertising, the backlash against Facebook has been unprecedented.  The hashtag #DeleteFacebook is trending on Twitter, and attempts by Mark Zuckerberg haven’t quite stymied the Facebook stock price downturn as company’s executives fight to improve the increasingly negative perception of the social network giant.

The debate over how Facebook fundamentally views personal privacy will rage on for some time yet.  But in the here and now, some people accuse Facebook of losing control of the data they trusted the company to protect.  Other balk at learning for the first time the sheer depth of data that Facebook has been collecting over the years to deliver their targeted advertising products.

Facebook’s business model is to collect data on its users, build creepily accurate profiles of its users that will allow for highly targeted advertising.  Whatever your stance on targeted advertising, for many Facebook users the breaking point came this week when details of how Cambridge Analytica used the Facebook platform to allow user data to be accessed and misused by 3rd parties without consent.

After years of privacy related controversy, is it time to say enough is enough to Facebook?  Has the social network grown too big, too intrusive and too powerful?  Should we really #DeleteFacebook?  Maybe… but for some, Facebook is an essential part of their personal and professional lives.  Quitting Facebook is not as easy a decision to some people as others.  It often serves as the primary social connection to friends and family, and for many, the platform acts as the only marketing engine for small businesses and charitable organisations.

So for those wanting/needing to give Facebook a second chance, here’s a few steps you can take to at least lock down how your identity data is being used.

Understand what Facebook could collect and/or share about you

Facebook could know, amongst other things (deep breath now) –

your name, your address, your date of birth, where you’ve checked in and when, where you were educated and to what level, events and groups you’ve been invited to or attended, who’s in your family, your gender, what news articles you’ve liked/shared/commented on, what ads you click, what companies you engage with and what you say, what services you’ve logged into using your Facebook identity and when, any name changes, your phone number, your political views, your religious views, who you are friends with and who you removed as friends, what searches you’ve made on Facebook, where you work. 

These are just the highlights, for a more comprehensive (!) list go to https://www.facebook.com/help/405183566203254

So what! you may think, after all you told Facebook this information through likes, shares, comments and views. The creepy eureka moment happens when you realise that unless you tell it otherwise, Facebook can share this data with 3rd parties like advertisers. And as we’ve seen more recently, 3rd parties don’t just have to be promoting a product. They could be promoting politically swayed news or messaging, or collating the data for other subversive reasons.

Manage what you don’t want Facebook to collect and/or share about you

It’s an understatement that the default settings of Facebook aren’t exactly pro-privacy.  The good news is that with a little tweaking you can lock down who gets to see what.  It’s easier to do this via a browser, but many functions should be configurable through the Facebook mobile app.

Reviewing the Apps currently connected to your Profile

Log into Facebook and click the down arrow in the top right corner.  Click Settings.  In the left menu click Apps.  The top section will tell you what apps or services you’ve logged in using your Facebook profile.  These apps and services will have received your name and profile data as detailed.  Review, and if you use them and you’re happy to continue using them, they can stay, otherwise remove by hovering over the app tile and click [x].


Disabling Facebook’s ability to share your data with Apps altogether

Stay in the Apps section and directly below is Apps, Websites and Plug-ins – this where you control the global setting for Facebook sharing your data with apps.  Click Edit and change to Disable Platform.


Preventing your Friends from sharing any of your data with their Apps

Your Friends may see your profile data, fine, but did you know their Apps could potentially see your data too?  You can prevent your Friends unwittingly sharing your data by clicking Edit, then unchecking all the categories and clicking Save.


Preventing Ad Targeting based on your Profile information

The controls around Ad targeting has its own section, and is not part of the privacy and security settings.  Back in the Settings section, in the left menu click Ads to go to the Ad Preference center.  Review what information Facebook is using for targeted ads, and then go to the About You section, uncheck everything you don’t want shared, which should be everything.


Preventing Ad Targeting based on your interests

Facebook builds a picture of your interests for targeting ads based on your engagement.  You can remove interests by hovering over the interest and clicking [x].


Preventing Ad Targeting based on your website and app usage

When you are outside of Facebook, the company uses your information to deliver targeted ads in two ways.  Firstly, Facebook syndicates ads outside of the platform, and can display ads based on your profile through websites off Facebook – this is a form of retargeting.  Secondly, advertising partners of Facebook can implement tracking code to feed back to Facebook where you visit and what apps you use, and Facebook passively uses this data to build a better picture of you and make its ads even more targeted. It’s best to set all options for the first two options to No to ensure that Facebook ads don’t follow you around the web when you view other websites, and you stop Facebook from receiving some of your browsing and app history.  The third option controls whether Facebook can use records of your Likes or Shares to serve you targeted ads.  Set this to No One.


Reviewing and removing advertiser interactions you’ve had in the past

The advertisers you’ve interacted with allows you to see advertisers whose ads you’ve clicked and advertisers with your contact info.  You can remove these from the record by hovering and clicking [x].  You won’t be able to delete any information already shared with the advertisers, to do that you’d need to contact each one individually and ask for your data to be removed (good luck with that).


Control who can see your posts, friends lists and more

Most people will use Facebook to stay in touch with their Friends.  It’s therefore unnecessary to show your posts to non-friends and friends-of-friends and unnecessary to allow search engines to link to your profile.  You can change how people find and contact you in the Privacy Settings and Tools by clicking Privacy in the left menu.  The below example is an illustration of how to set up a controlled friend group.


Prevent Facebook from searching for your face in photos, videos and wherever else

Make sure that Face Recognition is set to No unless you want Facebook searching its records of photos, videos and posts to associate your profile with your face found elsewhere in its database.


Control what other people can post in your Timeline

The final granular control I’ll cover is how you can control the content posted to your Timeline.  You can’t stop yourself from being tagged, but you can stop people freely posting to your Timeline or your Timeline displaying posts where you have been tagged.  Go to the Timeline and Tagging section, and in the Review section make sure that both options to Review are set to On to give you control over display of content where you’re tagged being added to the Timeline.



How to pull the plug on Facebook

Still not happy with Facebook?  Then it’s time to delete.  Follow the instructions at https://www.facebook.com/help/224562897555674 – and remember you have the ability to download a copy of all your info first.