Three Ways to Help Protect Your Privacy on Facebook



By Justin Sablich

Despite all the news coverage of Facebook users having their information accessed by companies like Cambridge Analytica, you may not have had a chance yet to look into ways of protecting your privacy.

“Your personal information is like money,” Russ Schrader, The National Cyber Security Alliance’s executive director, told the Huffington Post. "You wouldn’t walk around with $20 bills hanging out of your pocket. You need to value it and protect it. You need to be thoughtful about it.”

While the only way to fully protect your privacy is to quit Facebook altogether, a few simple steps can be taken to prevent your private data from being shared unwillingly, as well as improve your general privacy when using the app. 

Block access for third-party apps
It’s easy to block access to any app that you may have previously given permission to. Just remember, however, that if you use your Facebook login to sign into things like AirBnB, Stubhub, Venmo or any other popular program, you will lose the ability to prevent certain information from being shared. Each app will let you know which information is “required” to share if you want to keep using your Facebook login to access that app. 

From your general settings page, click “Apps and Websites” in the left column. You will see which apps you’re currently giving access to. When you click “View and Edit,” you’ll see exactly what information you’re sharing. 

In most cases, the only required information to share while maintaining login access to an app is your public profile info—your name, profile picture, general age info and other things you’ve chosen to make public. 

For instance: I log into Amazon with my Facebook account. I like it when my Facebook friends are notified about the reviews I read on Amazon; but I do not have to let Amazon have access to all my likes, history and all the things I have said on Facebook. The default is that it does have this access. These settings can be adjusted on an app-by-app basis, according to Gary Warner, director of Research in Computer Forensics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

You’ve likely already given permission to give the app access to things like your friend list, likes and email address. You can uncheck these items in order to stop sharing this information with the app. To delete access to the app completely (thus giving up your ability to log into this app using your Facebook sign-up information), just check the box to the right of each app and hit the “Remove” button. 

Decide who your real “friends” are
Regarding the general privacy of what you post, you can pick and choose who sees what by clicking on “Settings” and then “Privacy.”

Under the option “Who Can See Your Future Posts,” you have five initial choices: “Public,” “Friends,” “Friends except,” “Specific friends” and “Only me.” It’s worth checking out, as many don’t realize that all of their posts are “Public,” so they can quickly change that to “Friends” or any other option.

Facebook gives you much more control if you’re willing to create Friend Lists. Maybe you have friends or colleagues that you don’t necessarily want to see what you’re posting. If you have them in their own list, you can exclude everyone on that list from seeing your content. Or maybe you only want a select group to see your posts. In that case, create a list with your besties on it. 

Beyond this, you can control things like who can contact you and can see your basic public information.  You can also decide what shows up on your timeline, and go back to previous posts and limit access to those.

Limit exposure to ads
There’s no way to stop Facebook from showing you ads, but you can play with what kinds of ads do show up. This is done by removing the content categories that advertisers are using to target you. 

You can access the “Ads dashboard” through your main settings page. Click on “Your Information” and you’ll see all of the target keywords Facebook has been using on you.

You may find some of them alarmingly specific, like being labeled with a “potential mobile network or device change” tag, which means that Facebook has determined that you are someone “who may be interested in switching their mobile network or device.” 

Facebook can also show ads based on the following (like it did for me): “Close friends of expats,” “Close Friends of Women with a Birthday in 7-30 days,” as well as what it thinks your politics are, even though you might not have that on your public profile. If you find any of your tags troubling, you can simply delete the ones you no longer want to be part of Facebook’s ad equation. 

Other settings you can turn off include: “Ads based on data from partners” and “Ads that include your social actions.”

Justin Sablich is a freelance journalist and social media strategist as well as a contributing writer and editor at The New York Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JustinSablich.

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