How to protect your data on Facebook

Tips on ways to keep your data from third-party apps

Facebook app on smartphone
(Image credit: THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)

Revelations that the Trump-linked political data firm Cambridge Analytica circumvented Facebook’s privacy policies in order to harvest the data of more than 50 million Americans has sparked several users to leave the platform in an attempt to protect their privacy.

But is renouncing Facebook the best way to protect your personal data?

It was information from a Facebook quiz – just like the ones that offer to test your IQ or tell you the name of your next love – that Cambridge Analytica reportedly used to collect people’s data.

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Many of these quizzes reassure users that their personal information is safe but they’re actually “designed to tempt users” as a “shop front for mass data collection”, says the BBC.

Facebook has since changed its terms of services to cut down on the information that these kinds of third parties can harvest, such as accessing data from users’ friends. The change was made in 2014 and rolled out to every Facebook app over the course of 2015.

It’s not exactly clear what information the firm got hold of.

How to protect your information from third parties

After logging into Facebook, visit the App setting page. Unclick any category that you don’t want an app to access such as bio, birthday, family, religious views, if you are online, posts on your timeline, activities and interests.

You can go one step further by going to the App setting page and clicking the edit button under Apps, Websites and Plugins and disabling the platform.

You can also click on the edit button under “Apps others use” lower on the page. This will allow you to decide what information your friends can share on your behalf. Uncheck any of the boxes for information that you don’t want released.

According to Facebook, leaving them all checked will make your friends’ experience ‘better and more social’, says The Guardian’s technology reporter Alex Hern, “which doesn’t seem like a good trade-off for you.”

Other pieces of advice

If you’re given the opportunity to log into an app or play a game by logging in through Facebook, go through the original site instead.

Paul Bernal, an information technology lecturer at the University of East Anglia School of Law, told the BBC: “Using Facebook Login is easy but doing so grants the app’s developer access to a range of information from their Facebook profiles.”

The last resort

The best way to ensure that your data remains completely private is to leave Facebook. To delete your information from the site, look at the help document with the title “how do I permanently delete my account?”

If you click on “let us know”, you’ll be taken to the actual account deletion screen. Click on “delete my account” and fill in your password. Two weeks after that, Facebook will begin a 90-day deletion process.

“The incentive Facebook will have to protect people more will only come if people start leaving. Currently it has very little incentive to change,” says Bernal.

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