It wasn’t until recently that Facebook has been embroiled in an existential threat about their collection of personal data, but there have been red flags for a long time. While those red flags have been present and widely known for years, Facebook’s user base has skyrocketed. It seems like we, collectively, have decided that we’re comfortable with Orwellian data gathering as long as it does not lead to a visible catastrophe. I’m glad that people are looking like they might be moving away from Facebook, after so many years of flocking toward the platform.
In the past I’ve considered deleting my Facebook account but never actually did it because of the social connections that I’d lose. Over the last week I’ve been reconsidering whether or not now is the right time finally take that action. For now I’ve decided not to delete my Facebook account, but instead to do everything I can to lock it down. To remove as much personal information from the platform as I can, and to commit to limiting Facebook as much as possible. If you are open to deleting your account, now is a good time to do that. If not, read on and I’ll share what I’ve done.
Downloading Your Data
If you’re curious about what Facebook has on you, the easiest way to find out is to download your data. Facebook enables this as an option within the Settings menu. Here’s their guide on how to do that: Facebook How can I download a copy of my Facebook data?
For me the backup .zip file was almost 5gb in size. Every photo, every video, the contents of every conversation, location data, and more. It is an astounding amount of information. Here’s an image which demonstrates what I mean by astounding. Think of the damage that can be done with this.
Here’s are the things which I focused on.
The first and most obvious thing to disable are the “Apps” that you grant access to your Facebook data. The Cambridge Analytica scandal gathered data from about 200,000 Facebook users by asking them to login to their personality quiz with their Facebook account, which granted them personal data. If it were just personal data on 200,000 people that wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but Cambridge Analytica was also collecting data on all of their friends, which amounted to personal info of 50 million people. So disable apps.
You can do that by going to Settings > Apps and disabling everything there. When you’re done, it should look like this:
There’s a Chrome extension I used to make this a lot easier, called FB Purity. It automates some of these processes.
Delete Facebook Messenger
The one on your phone. While installed, the Facebook app collects a shocking amount of private information, including location data. It also consumes battery life and can make your phone slower. Delete it and don’t look back. If you have people that you communicate with regularly via Facebook, send a single message and say that you don’t have the app on your phone so they’ll have to wait before you can respond. Encourage them to switch to another chat app. I use WeChat mostly but like Messenger (for iPhone) and Telegram since they feature end-to-end encryption.
Turn on Every Privacy Setting
Go to Settings > Privacy and turn everything on. Only show updates to friends, hide your friend list, and do not allow search engines to crawl your Facebook data. Edit your public profile, and note which information is available to public visitors who are not on your friends list. I see no reason to make any of that information public, so I have it all hidden and viewable only “by me” (the lock icon indicates the change has been committed).
Is it Enough?
Time will tell, but Facebook already has all of our data. On the bright side, leaving Facebook and not giving them any more data is very doable. There are plenty of other platforms to replace Facebook: Reddit for news, Telegram or Apple Messages for communication.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, why it’s so significant and what it could mean for Facebook’s future, I like this podcast episode: Exponent Podcast – Facebook’s Real Mistake.
April 12th update: since publishing this post I discovered this site: The Deletist. Recommended!