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6 Steps to Safeguard Your Privacy on Facebook

Many users don’t know how much of their information they’ve willingly released. Here’s how to reel it back in.

En español | Facebook says it soon will offer an easier way for people to control their privacy settings. This comes after the revelation that the Cambridge Analytica (CA) data analytics firm obtained access to the personal information of more than 50 million Facebook users. The new menu feature will be labeled “privacy shortcuts.” You’ll be able to review what you shared, delete what you want, download your data and sign up for two-factor authentication.

What has become clear over the last 10 days is that even the tiniest Facebook click can unleash your personal data and information in ways you likely never considered. CA manipulated a quiz app called “thisisyourdigitallife” to get users'  personal information. But the act by CA, which has been linked to the Trump presidential campaign and the Brexit "leave" campaign, isn’t considered a breach. It simply stripped information that users, mostly unwittingly, had exposed by taking the digital quiz. “People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated,” Facebook posted on its official blog, “and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”

Close-up view of 10 facebook notifications on a smart phone. Facebook is a social networking service, owned and operated by Facebook, Inc.

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While Facebook reevaluates its privacy policies in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica situation, there are steps you can take now to protect your data on the site.

The new menu won’t be available for a few weeks, but there are ways to better safeguard your personal information now. Taking these steps will make it harder for companies to mine data from your Facebook account.

1. Adjust Your Third-Party Apps Settings

Those aforementioned quizzes and other apps on Facebook usually require you to grant access in order to use them — and it’s easy to remember to “ungrant” that access once you’re finished. "Access" means those apps remain linked to your account, with access to your personal information. Facebook comes right out and states this, though the reminder is placed deep within your apps settings page:

"On Facebook, your name, profile picture, cover photo, gender, networks, username, and user id are always publicly available to both people and apps. Learn why. Apps also have access to your friends list and any information you choose to make public."

The good news is it’s fairly easy to unlink those apps, if you know how:

  1. Click the downward-facing triangle at the top right of your profile page, then scroll down to "Settings."
  2. Once in the Settings, click the “Apps” section. You’ll be taken to a list of all third-party apps that you’ve granted access to your account.
  3. Scroll to the bottom of this list, locate the “Apps, Websites and Plugins” box, click edit, and click “Disable Platform.” On the same App Settings page, find the “Apps Others Use” box, and click Edit. You’ll then be able to select which of your personal information is shared when any of your friends use apps, including your bio, your birthday, your recent Facebook activity and even your religious and political affiliations.

2. Tweak Your Sharing Settings

You can dictate who will see what you post to Facebook. By default, your profile is set to “Public,” meaning anyone on the social network can see your information and posts. Here’s how to limit the audience that can see what you post:

  1. Go to your Facebook settings by following the directions above.
  2. Click on “Privacy” and you’ll be taken to a page where you can edit “Who can see your posts?” Best practice is to choose “Friends Only” for many or all of these settings. You can also customize a list of Facebook friends who will see your posts, or choose to keep your posts private to yourself only.
  3. In the Privacy settings area, you can also opt out of Facebook’s facial recognition system, which scans photos posted to the sites and makes tagging suggestions to other users.

3. Get a Privacy Checkup

Facebook does offer a handy link that allows a quick adjustment to your account settings.

  1. Click the question mark in the top right section of the menu bar on your profile page.
  2. Scroll down to “Privacy Checkup.”
  3. You’ll be able to quickly view who can see your posts, which apps are currently linked to your account, and what personal information can be seen, and by whom. The checkup option allows you to adjust these all in one place — and lets you edit personal information (update or delete your hometown, relationship status, etc.) — but it shouldn’t replace the deeper dives listed above.

4. Limit or Restrict Ad Preferences

If you don’t want Facebook to serve up custom ads based on your personal information and site use, you can opt out of that program as well.

  1. Once signed in, go to the Facebook Ad Preferences settings page.
  2. In the Ad settings section, toggle each option to “Off.” This restricts Facebook from using its affiliated sites, and apps you’ve used through its own site, to serve up ads based on your data.
  3. In the Ad Preferences section, you can also view advertisers, companies and topics with which you are linked through your actions on Facebook. Hundreds of topics appeared on my list, and more than two dozen specific companies — a few of which I had never heard of. If that makes you uncomfortable, you can delete topics or companies by hovering over its respective icon and clicking the X.

5. Turn Off Your Mobile Device’s Location Services

This privacy tweak isn’t restricted to Facebook, but the site is one of many that uses the GPS location tracking in your smartphone or mobile device to gain insight into your personality and habits. You can restrict this access by changing your settings on your device.

iOS users (iPhones and iPads): Open your Phone Settings, click to “Privacy” and then to “Location Services.” You have the option to turn off all location services, and while from a privacy standpoint that’s advisable, if you use your phone’s maps function often that could be problematic. In that case, you can scroll down and disable location services on an app-by-app basis, including Facebook.

Android users: Go to Account Settings, then “Location” and make sure the Facebook access slider is set to  “Off.”

6. View Yourself as Others on Facebook Do

One useful tool Facebook offers its users is the “View As” option, which allows you to see your profile page as any Facebook user, either a stranger or one of your friends, would when they look at your page. To see this view:

  1. Go to your profile page and click on the three dots in the right-hand corner of your cover photo (the large rectangular photo at the top of this page, not to be confused with your profile photo, which is the smaller square photo that appears with your name across the entire site).
  2. Scroll down to the “View As” option.
  3. Once there, you can see how your page appears to the general public. You also can see how it appears to any of your Facebook friends, allowing you to make sure that any customized settings you’ve enabled are working properly.

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