If the Cambridge Analytica scandal has you thinking about deleting your Facebook account, you’re not alone. A recent poll indicated most Canadians are re-evaluating their use of the social media platform, with 41 percent saying they’ll look at their settings, 23 percent saying they’ll use Facebook less, 6 percent saying they’ll take a break, and 4 percent intending to quit Facebook altogether.
Part of the privacy puzzle starts with online ads. It may seem annoying, but mostly harmless, to see an ad on Facebook for a website you were visiting or a product you were looking at. But the purpose of this kind of advertising, called interest-based or online behavioural advertising, is to “follow you”around the web. It logs your behaviour as you click, even when you switch devices. Each interaction seems small, but when you put it all together it makes for a creepily accurate portrait of you as a consumer, and that information is then sold to advertisers.
Advertising makes the world go ‘round, and it’s not necessarily evil. But when you lose control over your personal data, and that data is shared without you knowing, it’s a breach of privacy.
But for a lot of people, logging off isn’t that easy. I get it. Facebook is useful, and addictive. It’s not easy to quit — and you may not have to. A bit of knowledge about how online advertising works, and a few tweaks to settings will go a long way to help protect your privacy. Here are five tips to help you keep control of your information on Facebook and beyond:
Opt out of interest-based advertising
There’s a simple way to tell most of the services that are tracking you to buzz off. Visit the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA)’s WebChoices Request website, and a quick scan of hundreds of participating interest-based advertising companies will come up. You’ll see which ones are tracking you, and then you can choose “opt out of all.”
There’s an app equivalent for your smartphone that you should use as well. Download and run the AppChoices app and decide whether you want to opt-out of data collection for interest-based advertising on your mobile devices. (Note that this won’t get rid of all interest-based advertising, because not every advertiser is a member of the DAA).
Review and remove your information on file
Facebook knows a lot about you. Google knows even more. But the data isn’t secret. You can download the information that Facebook has about you, and see your activity that’s logged in Google. If you want to remove the data, you can. Visit your Facebook activity log and start clicking and deleting each record. It takes a while, so use the Social Book Post Manager extension for the Google Chrome web browser. Select a date range for the activity you want to remove, and it speeds up the process by clicking the delete button for you. Google also has bulk delete tools for removing your activity data.
Update your ad preferences in Facebook
Go into your Facebook ad preferences and work your way through each section. Pay particular attention to the “Advertisers You’ve Interacted With,”“Your Information,”and “Ad Settings”sections. In “Advertisers You’ve Interacted With,”remove any that don’t interest you any more. In “Your Information,”you can disable information that’s shared with advertisers, like your relationship status, employer, job title and education.
In “Ad Settings”, you have three options:
- “Ads based on data from partners”: this means Facebook is tailoring ads to you based on your internet behaviour outside Facebook. Looked at a pair of killer booties online and then see ads for those shoes on Facebook? That’s this setting. Change it to “not allowed”to disable.
- “Ads based on your activity on Facebook Company Products that you see elsewhere”: This is the reverse of #1. Facebook (and its “Company Products,”including Instagram) will share information about your activity with outside advertisers. Change to “not allowed”to disable.
- “Ads that include your social actions”: Are you seeing adsin Facebook that say “Jane liked XYZ company”? Or “Fatima checked in at ABC restaurant”? If you choose “no one”on this setting, then your friends won’t see your interactions with ads.
Cut off third party apps
Cambridge Analytica obtained their data on millions of Facebook users through an app called “thisisyourdigitallife”. In Facebook, go to the Apps and Websites section of your settings to see which outside apps link to your account. Get rid of any you’re not using. Also, you may see some services that are using “Login with Facebook.”This allows you to use your Facebook ID to log in to another website or app like Spotify, Pinterest, or Airbnb. While it’s convenient to use, it gives those platforms access to your Facebook info (which could include your birthday and other things they don’t need to know). Remove any third party apps or sites whose security you don’t trust.
Now do the same thing for your Google Account. Go to your account settings and update the apps that have unnecessary access to your account.
Turn off contact syncing in Facebook Messenger
One of the creepiest revelations that surfaced during the Cambridge Analytica scandal was that Facebook might know your smartphone’s call and text message history. If you use Facebook Messenger or Facebook Lite on an Android smartphone and you have “sync contacts” selected, your call and text message history may be logged. To turn this off, boot up the Messenger app on your phone. Click on your profile photo, then select “People” in the menu that pops up. Make sure “Sync Contacts” is toggled off.
Cleaning up your online privacy settings is about as exciting as cleaning out the trunk of your car. But this modern-day chore really is necessary to do. Spend a few minutes securing your settings, install an ad blocker, and enjoy the web without worrying.