To Delete or Not To Delete Facebook?

Many people are deleting their Facebook accounts after learning about the massive data breach by Cambridge Analytics. They are angry and frustrated on how Facebook doesn’t protect their privacy. The #DeleteFacebook hashtag is trending on Twitter. Various privacy watchdogs are now springing into action, which surprises me, because the practice of developers sucking data from Facebook has been a standard practice for YEARS. And it’s completely legal.

What if you’re on Facebook and only discovering this now? Here are some things you can do.

Use the browser version only

Facebook wants you to use their apps on your mobile device, because it enables them to collect more data about you, for example your location history. It reads geo data from your photos. One option is to turn location services off for Facebook. When I realised how much extra data I was giving Facebook, I removed the app from my cell phone.

In the mean time I’m using the mobile browser if I want to check what my friends are doing. If you feel fine sharing your location data, keep the app. Otherwise stick to the mobile browser. It’s not as handy, but you were spending too much time on your phone anyway.

Don’t log into third party sites with Facebook

It’s so easy: a lot of sites and services allow you to login with your Facebook account. Or use a social share button to share an article instead of copying/pasting the URL. Doing so you are feeding extra information to Facebook, which then gets analysed and sold to advertisers.

You’re better off creating a standalone account for every site you want to log into with a unique password. Use a password manager to manage your login data. You can install a browser plugin handling your passwords for you. Also, disable ‘platform’ on Facebook.

While you’re in the browser’s settings, disable third-party cookies to make it harder for Facebook and other services to track you after leaving their sites. I also have an adblocker installed for this reason.

Stop doing those quizzes

Whenever you do a quiz, say to find out which Hollywood star you look like or which country you should have been born in, you are handing over both your own data and your friends’ to the app’s developer. This is why most of these quizzes exist in the first place. They are nothing but a data harvesting tool.

Keep it simple, keep it small

There’s a saying that whatever you post online will stay online. Forever. You may delete it, but there’s archive.org and a host of other places storing cached versions of that data. I keep this in mind when posting on social media. I keep things general, I do not post anything that discloses my exact location and stay clear of political discussions.

I even limit the amount of ‘friends’ to people I really know in real life and who I actually talk to. Fewer friends means smaller chance of all your data being pulled by a quiz or an app THEY log into. Whenever I purge friends, I make sure to post a PSA beforehand because it is nothing personal.

Deactivating vs. Deleting Facebook

Facebook gives you the opportunity to leave and take your data with you. If you want to take a break, you can deactivate your account. If you want to leave, you have to visit a support page that’s deliberately buried deep in the Facebook ecosystem to delete your account. You may want to empty your profile before leaving to make sure everything is truly gone.

To do so, click on the triangle next to the question mark in the upper right hand side of your profile screen and select ‘Activity log’ from the menu. This lists everything you’ve ever done on Facebook. Several browser plugins exist to wipe this section and thus delete your data. There’s an updated article on Slate.com that walks you through the steps of purging your activity log.

Know that Facebook owns WhatsApp and Instagram among other services, recently the Spanish privacy watchdog started litigation against WhatsApp because they are sharing data with Facebook. You may want to delete these services as well.

Image credit: Pixabay / Creative Commons / CC0