Actually, delete Facebook if it will make you feel better, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter at this point and it won’t do any good.1 Here’s the backstory: A big news story broke this week about a British company, Cambridge Analytica, that used data harvested from a Facebook quiz by an academic researcher to compile profiles on millions of people that it then (maybe) used to target political ads. And because those ads may have been for Trump, everyone lost their minds and said they needed to save themselves from Facebook.
The fact is that you’re closing the barn door after the horse is gone, but you can take control of some of what Facebook knows and shares about you.
I say the horse is out of the barn because this harvesting of Facebook data for political purposes is old news. In 2012, the Obama campaign was openly bragging about the Facebook data it collected on the young users of its app. It’s the same data that Cambridge Analytica was seeing. And keep in mind that the data that Obama got six years ago is still very useful and has probably been dispersed into a bunch of successor organizations. They’re also been collecting all this data for however long you’ve been signed up and they don’t delete it when you quit. They’re also not the only one. This kind of Big Data harvesting is happening every day through Google’s ad networks and Amazon’s sales records and your music playlists and your brick-and-mortar purchases. This is the reality of the world we live in. So deleting your Facebook profile is just one drop in the bucket.
However, as I said, you can take back some control. For Facebook, you can limit what data it shares. For one thing, stop using your Facebook or Google profile to create logins on other sites. It is so tempting to do so because it makes life easier not to have to manage more passwords. For that I say, get a password manager.2 But you should know that if you do use your Facebook or Google profiles (it’s often OAuth or Open Authorization login), you are giving both Facebook and the site you’re signing into access to more data about yourself. In fact, that other site can pull in all kinds of data from your FB profile like your friends, your likes and dislikes, contact info, birthdays and more. This is all Big Data gold.
If you’ve already been using your FB profile as a login, go to the sites and when prompted to login, hit the “forgot my password” link instead. It will send you a password reset which will break the FB or Google login connection and let you set up a username (usually your email that it sent the reset to) and unique password.
Then you can go to Facebook’s web page, look for “Settings” under the downward facing triangle at the top right and click on “Apps”. From there you will see at the top all the apps and web site you are logged into with Facebook. Of course, some of them you will want to be logged into because you use them with the service. For example, I use Buffer and Hootsuite to post to my Facebook profile and I sometimes share my reviews from Yelp and Goodreads to Facebook. But you may decide that what you give up in privacy doesn’t balance with what you get from the service. For those, you have decided not to use with OAuth or don’t want to be connected to your profile, click the X next to them and they will delete.
Then go down the page to “Apps Others Use”. This is a tricky setting. By default, when your Facebook friends use apps, they can share data about you with those apps without your knowing about it and with you never having used the app. Click on Edit, uncheck all the boxes, and Save.
Speaking of sharing other people’s data, if you have Messenger installed on your phone, open it, go under the People tab, and make sure it’s not set to Sync Contacts. Otherwise, Messenger will slurp up all your contacts in your phone’s address book and upload them to Facebook, including any private email addresses or phone numbers. This why you sometimes see Friend recommendations from Facebook for people you maybe had fleeting contact with or lost contact with over the years. I recently added the phone number of my boys’ Cub Scout pack leader to my phone book and immediately Facebook started recommending I friend him. That’s how I discovered what Messenger was doing.
This is also why not having a Facebook profile doesn’t help you avoid Facebook’s Big Data. While Facebook has 1 billion users, we know that they have secret profiles on hundreds of millions of more people because of all that secondary data they’re slurping up, like all those phone address books. Plus what Google and it’s ad network grab and what Amazon knows and those brick-and-mortar stores.
The reality is that you can’t avoid Big Data3, but what you can and should do is take back what control you can over what information you share. But you don’t need to delete your Facebook profile. Where else would you go to maintain your long distance friendships? Twitter?
- There’s also the reality that Facebook is a social godsend for some people, especially the housebound or isolated, helping them keep in touch in ways they would never otherwise. ↩
- I recommend 1Password or LastPass. They are multi-platform and have smartphone apps. I think 1Password is a little better, but it’s a little more expensive. ↩
- And in some ways it can make life better, like making sure you see ads relevant to you or recommending products you’ll actually buy. ↩