If the news about Facebook and political data firm Cambridge Analytica shocked you, then we’re sorry. But it’s not new news. Lots of firms have used data mining techniques for years. Your social media pages, even the stuff that isn’t public, are used by advertisers and data collection agencies (didn’t you think it a little strange that the Home Depot lawn mower ad showed up in your feed right after you googled it?). Some people avoid the issue completely by not using social media at all. But in a connected world, you’re out of the loop without social media (how would Grandma know you went to Florida for spring break?). Like most things, there’s a middle ground between posting your social security number and living in a house where a landline is your only outside connection. A good place to start is by downloading your Facebook information. The steps are simple. Just make sure you’ve got some downtime scheduled because it could be a BIG file and it will take a while to go through it. All that data starts to add up, you know.
After you receive the file, Facebook doesn’t offer any guidance. We reviewed our own data to give you some ideas on what to look for. Of course, it’s easy to see all of your photos and status updates. But keep digging. If you have an Android device, you’ll find things like your phone call records. There’s also an interesting (creepy) section that contains photos used by Facebook’s facial recognition algorithm. But, perhaps the strangest section is the “Ads” tab, where you can see the advertising categories your account has been connected to, based on your likes and posts. Sometimes they’re uncomfortably accurate.
Once you’ve looked through your entire message history, every photo, and all the ads you’ve clicked on, it’s time to start cleaning up your profile. Facebook already said they’re working on making it easier to protect and remove your data, and Firefox (the best browser currently available, in our opinion) added a free browser extension called Facebook Container to help stop Facebook from tracking your browsing history.
But is this enough? In short, no. Go through the “Apps” section under “Settings” and remove all of the apps you don’t recognize. Stop making your posts public. Make sure that your posts don’t include potentially sensitive data, like your current location, even if only your friends can allegedly see it. Most importantly, stop signing up for new services with your Facebook login. If you use your Facebook login, the service can access your Facebook account, and in most cases, get to all of that desirable information inside the account. You can’t be too careful.
There’s no need to delete your Facebook account if you don’t want to. You can, however, protect yourself for the future. Download your Facebook data, follow the steps above, and clean up your account. While you’re at it, look at ALL of your Privacy settings The recent Cambridge Analytica news is scary and Facebook is at fault for allowing it to happen, but we gave them data to work with in the first place.