If months of reading about deceitful quiz apps, political meddling by Russian bots, unchecked data collection, and a security breach have you rethinking your relationship with Facebook, youâre not alone.
In a nationally representative survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, 7 in 10 Facebook account holders told Consumer Reports they altered their behavior in some way due to privacy concerns raised by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Among the active social media users in the survey, 41 percent said they revised the privacy settings on social media accounts; 37 percent turned off the location tracking on Facebook’s mobile app; and 31 percent cut back on posting, commenting, and viewing content on the platform.
Ready to tighten the controls on your own account? Here are some simple ways to do that.
Keep your whereabouts to yourself. Each time you use the Facebook mobile app to âcheck inâ to your favorite diner or tag that family photo op on the Golden Gate Bridge, Facebook pinpoints your location using GPS data and signals from WiFi access points, cell towers, and other sources.
The company also uses that technology to identify the places you routinely visit and nearby businesses that may want to target you with ads. You donât have to let Facebook follow your every footstep, though. Hereâs how to turn off location tracking on your phone. (Android instructions may vary slightly by model.)
On an Android phone: Go to the phoneâs Settings > Apps (or Apps & Notifications) > Facebook > Permissions > Location > Off.
On an iPhone: Go to the phoneâs Settings > Privacy > Location >
Facebook > While Using the App or Never.
According to a Facebook spokesperson, the company hasnât adopted either application. Nor does it sell or use facial recognition technology to target ads. Still, these patents show how far-reaching the impact of such data collection could be, says Justin Brookman, the director of consumer privacy and technology policy at Consumerâs Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports. âFacebook has invested a lot in facial recognition,â he adds, âand itâs exploring ways to get a return on that investment.â
On a computer: Click the question mark at the top right of your Facebook home page and choose Privacy Shortcuts > Control Face Recognition > Edit > No.
Limit data collection by Facebook’s partners. The Facebook Login feature is a quick and easy way to sign in to websites and mobile apps for services such as The New York Times, Pandora, and Yelp. But it also gives the companies that provide those services access to account info, including your name, photo, email address, and other data visible to the public by default. Think schools you attended, workplaces, Facebook comments posted on other websites, and âlikes,â which the researchers at Cambridge Analytica mined for behavioral patterns.
In the wake of that scandal, Facebook withdrew this access from any third-party app that users hadnât logged in to for 90 days. (Sorry, Angry Birds!) âItâs a good change,â says Brookman. âHowever, as the Cambridge Analytica scandal showed, once a third party already has your data, itâs really hard to know what happens to it.â
It may be impossible to find and delete personal info harvested by other companies in the past, but you can see which apps are currently collecting data from your account and stop them. You will no longer be able to access these apps using your Facebook Login, so create a new login and password for each app before making changes.
On a computer: Click on the downward arrow at the top right of your Facebook page and choose Settings > Apps and Websites > Active > Click on the box next to the appâs logo > Remove.
Protect your account from hackers. Facebook doesnât release any figures on breaches, but as with all password-protected services, the security of any account is only as good as the safeguards put in place to protect it. To add a layer of defense to your account, activate two-factor authentication. Once you turn the feature on, Facebook will send you a verification codeâvia text or appâto confirm your identity when you access your account from an unverified location, device, or browser. âThat makes it much harder for someone to breach your account with a stolen password,â says Robert Richter, who oversees CRâs privacy testing.
On a computer: Go to Settings and choose Security and Login > Use two-factor authentication > Get Started.
Make your page harder to find. The default settings on Facebook permit your user profile to show up in any Google search that includes your name. But you can change the settings to make your profile less Google-able. And while youâre at it, you can also set limits on who can send you friend requests and look you up using the email address or phone number tied to your account.
On a computer: Go to Settings > Privacy > Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile? > Edit > Click the check box on the bottom > Turn Off.
Limit who can see your profile info, photos, and posts. Itâs fun to share the details of your life with family members and friends, but not so amusing to serve up that data to criminals who comb Facebook pages for personal details to use in identity-theft scams. If you leave your info open to the public, anyone can find your birthdate, motherâs maiden name, and passion for poodles.
Each time you post a new photo, video, or status update, Facebook provides a drop-down menu (near the Post button) that lets you keep the news among your friends. You can even exclude certain pals, like, say, your nosy neighbor or your boss.
Itâs easy to go back to your old posts and make certain youâre not sharing telltale details with people you donât know. Just hover your cursor over the downward arrow on the post until Facebookâs viewing tools appear. And hereâs how to limit the audience for all future and past posts:
On a computer: Go to Settings > Privacy > Who can see your future posts? > Edit. Then (on the same page) scroll down to Limit Past Posts.
Stop your “likes” from becoming ads. Youâve probably seen Facebook ads that list your friendsâ names: âSo-and-so likes … â Thatâs because Facebook lets advertisers use your name and products you âlikeââGirl Scout cookies, Starbucks coffee, Chevy pickup trucksâin ads pitched to people in your network. But just because youâre happy with your Casper bed-in-a-box mattress doesnât mean you need to publicly endorse it. Hereâs how to keep your name off those ads.
On a computer: Go to Settings > Ads > Ad Settings > Ads That Include Your Social Actions > No One.
Restrict Facebook from tracking your activity on other websites. Facebookâs snooping does not stop when you leave the platform. If youâve ever visited a website that uses Facebook servicesâLike and Share buttons, Facebook Login, or the companyâs analytics toolsâyouâve provided info on the stories youâve read, the videos youâve watched, even the products youâve viewed and placed in an online shopping cart.
âIf those buttons are on the page, regardless of whether you touch them or not, Facebook is collecting data,â says Casey Oppenheim, co-founder of the digital security firm Disconnect.
How do you put a stop to that data collection? Well, thereâs no foolproof way to do thatâparticularly via Facebookâs settings. You can, however, install an ad blocking extension such as Disconnect, Ublock, or Privacy Badger on your browser to disrupt Facebookâs efforts to link your browsing history to your Facebook account.
The Mozilla Foundation, the nonprofit organization behind the Firefox browser, has designed an ad blocker specifically for this task. Itâs called Facebook Container, and it uses a unique browser tab to wall the social media platform off from the rest of your online activity.
It takes only a few clicks to install the Facebook Container extension. The directions are easy to find online.
Perform a little crowd control. As the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal demonstrated, the people on your friends list can jeopardize your privacyâsometimes without even knowing it. While Facebook closed the policy loophole that allowed that particular data leak in 2014, there are plenty of other ways friends can let you downâby posting inappropriate content, for example, or falling for scams that permit accounts to be hacked. Thatâs why itâs best not to maintain Facebook âfriendshipsâ with people you donât really know (e.g., your best friendâs sisterâs tai chi instructor).
Facebook doesnât make it easy to delete large groups of friends. Thereâs no way to, say, eliminate everyone from your high school in one fell swoop. Instead, you have to go to your Facebook profile, select people to dismiss one at a time, hover over a drop-down menu, and choose Unfriend. To make the process a little easier, consider using the âbirthday method.â When you log in to Facebook each day, click on the globe at the top of the page, review the birthday notifications, and send out well wishes or quietly unfriend the people youâre willing to part withâin the interest of keeping your account more secure.
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