How Do You Keep Using Facebook but Minimize Your Risk?

Now that the major Facebook fail has come to light and we’re realizing just how vulnerable our personal data can be when using social media, many of us are trying to figure out how to limit our exposure without going so far as to #deletefacebook. After all, it has—for better or worse—become a de facto way of staying in touch, with friends, with community events and with people of like-minded interests.

If you’re looking for ways to limit exposure without deleting your Facebook account altogether, you can. Below are suggestions based on my own experience in taking these steps to protect myself. It takes a little legwork, as you’ll see, but the peace of mind is worth it.

First, change how you use Facebook
According to Facebook, I’ve been a user since 2007. Way back then, I didn’t know enough to be concerned about privacy. I freely shared information both in my profile and through my posts, and accepted friend requests willy nilly. Over time, I did start to think about these issues. I unfriended hundreds of people who weren’t really friends, I shared less, and I removed some of the personal information I had previously included in my profile.

In light of the recent news about Cambridge Analytica, however, I realized I still had a lot of work to do. So I dug deeper to find out what else I could change…

Second, share less information
The data collected about you is provided by you. But you can limit the amount of information you make accessible in two ways: remove some of it from your profile and share less on Facebook.

  • Removing information from your profile: Do you need to include your high school, college or hometown in your profile information? I realized that no, I do not. I went through and cleaned up my profile to remove that kind of information, as well as my phone number and other personal info that was unnecessary.
  • Sharing less often: You create data about you not only by posting on Facebook, but also by sharing and liking other posts and even things outside of Facebook that you share via Facebook. If you cut back on that kind of usage, you’ll cut back on the data collected about you.

Third, don’t use Facebook as your login elsewhere
When you need to create a login at a new site, you’re often given the option of simply logging in via Facebook. How easy is that? I used to do it! Now I don’t. I had to go back to some websites and create new logins in order to remove those sites and apps from my Facebook account, and that was a pain, but worth it.

Moving forward, take a minute to create new login rather than use your Facebook login and this won’t be an issue.

To see where you’ve already allowed access, you can log in to your Privacy Settings and Tools to review what kinds of access you’ve allowed, as well as the Apps you’ve granted access to. There you can remove the apps and sites you don’t want connected.

I was shocked to see the dozens of apps and websites that had access to my account, most of which I didn’t even recognize. Removing them took a while as I had to check the box next to each one at a time (without any “Select All” option) then click Remove. All told, I removed 41 apps and websites: 41!

Fourth, review information in your profile
I went through this exercise, and I was shocked at how much personal information I had shared via my Facebook data, some of it very old. For example, I had written an About description six years ago, in 2012, and I don’t even remember writing it!

I couldn’t figure out how to delete everything I want to delete. For example, I don’t share my birth year because you’re not supposed to as it makes you vulnerable to identity theft. But Facebook has it. It’s in my profile information. It’s not public to the world or even my Facebook friends, but it is readily available to Facebook, and I can’t change that.

Fifth, review your Ad settings
You can also check your Ads settings and delete those interests you don’t want used to target ads to you. I had to laugh while going through this process because so many of the interests Facebook associates with me or anything but! In addition, you can see the categories you’re included in and the “about you” information advertisers are using to target you.

Then there is the information under “Advertisers you’ve interacted with.” For me, I had nothing under the actual ads interacted with, but I have hundreds of advertisers showing up in the category “Who have added their contact list to Facebook.” Facebook says of this category, “These advertisers are running ads using a contact list they uploaded that includes contact info you shared with them or with one of their data partners.” And that’s kind of scary. Because not only do I not recognize most of these advertisers, but I don’t understand how they have my name until I see the words “data partners” and I realize just how much data sharing goes on—which is what I’m trying to avoid. (Notice I said have and not had. That’s because there are so many of these advertisers that I ran out of time to delete them all…and I don’t even know if that’s possible, there are so many—a sobering thought!)

Sixth, download your Facebook data
I didn’t not go so far as to download my Facebook data, but it is an option. For me, what I’ve shared, I’ve shared. I can’t delete it. Even deleting my Facebook account wouldn’t delete the data collected about me. But for someone curious to see what that data is, you can.

I don’t want to #deletefacebook. As people and organizations have moved away from email as a way to communicate, Facebook is how I find out about events in my small town and milestones in the lives of distant friends (because my family and close friends stay in touch in other ways). That said, I don’t want to share any more than I have to, and I hope the steps I’m taking help to minimize my risk—and that my experience might help you to do the same.

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