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How to use Facebook without letting it know everything about you

If you’re spooked by the news of the social media platform’s massive data breach, but you can’t delete it, we have some advice for you

Over the years, we’ve grown increasingly aware of the fact that Facebook knows just a little too much about us. Who could forget the panic about the site listening to its users through their phones? Still, we’ve largely continued our online lives as normal – until now. This time, with the revelation that data analytics company Cambridge Analytica harvested over 50 million Facebook accounts and used them to influence the 2016 US election, many are announcing their intentions to #DeleteFacebook. The sheer scale of the data breach, as well as Facebook’s failure to inform users when they became aware of it in 2015, has caused many to lose faith in the platform, and questions its influence on society, democracy, even personal relationships.

But not everyone wants to – or is able to – totally delete their account. Facebook has integrated itself into our society so successfully that people who don’t have it may lose out on invites to events, or contact with old school friends or relatives living far away, or notifications from their university. People use Facebook to buy and sell things, even listing houses available to rent in housing groups. Whether as a way of promoting your business or freelance work, staying in contact with a creative or professional community, or because your employer requires it, Facebook is not only a platform for sharing photos and liking your friends’ statuses anymore.

If this is you, all is not lost: there are a whole bunch of things you can do to limit Facebook’s ability to use your data and cut down the information it has about you. We already gave you a guide to how to survive without Facebook – but if you're set on keeping it, here's what you can do to make your online life more secure.


Head to your Facebook settings and click on “Download a copy of your Facebook data”. The site will then email you a file that contains literally everything Facebook knows about you. It contains masses of info you didn’t even know Facebook was holding: lists of deleted friends; requests you’ve rejected; your assumed advertising interests. Some have claimed that inside the “html” folder, they found logs of all their phone calls and facial recognition data. Scared yet?


Go into your ad preferences and check out all the weird shit Facebook thinks you like. Make sure to check out “Your Information”: here, you can see what Facebook knows/assumes about your financial status, home situation, and stage of life. Delete everything in ad preferences (unless you like your targeted ads, of course). You can also change a few settings in here – like turning off the options for Facebook to target ads based on your relationship status, employment, or education. You can also revoke permission for Facebook to use your browsing history to target ads. The “Who can see your social actions paired with ads?” button also allows you to stop ads you’ve liked from showing up on friends’ feeds.


The less active you are on Facebook, the less information Facebook has about you. Every time you share a “feeling” status, it’s easier for companies like Cambridge Analytica to build a profile on your attitude, moods, and the way you respond to particular situations. It might be tough to quit engaging with these features if you’re trying to build a following, but if your account is purely personal, it’s best to stop altogether. Your friends probably won’t mind.


Yes, this includes the millions of groups and pages you’ve liked over the years. How much of the information you have on Facebook actually needs to be there? If your employment and education background don’t need to be on there, get rid of them. In fact, wipe as much personal information as you feel you can.


In your settings, find “Timeline and tagging”, and then “Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded?” Change this so that no one gets tag suggestions for you. This way, Facebook won’t use facial recognition data to find your face in other people’s photos.


If the stories about Facebook having your phone call logs is true, Facebook probably gained access to this information through having access to phone contacts. Switch off permission to use your phone and email contacts, so you also won’t get people like your landlord or your boss awkwardly showing up in your suggested friends list.


This is the simplest tip of all: just make your privacy settings the strictest they can be. Only let friends of friends send you friend requests, and don’t show your “about” or timeline to anyone that’s not a friend. Lock down your personal information as much as Facebook will allow.


Cambridge Analytica gathered all their data from people who’d completed a personality test through an app called “thisisyourdigitallife”. We’ve all got useless apps clogging up in our permitted apps folder. Now is the time to clear those out. For any apps that you do want to have permission like Spotify, Timehop, and er, Tinder, just limit what information of yours they can see to “public profile” – the absolute minimum. Don’t give them your friends list, email, or any additional info.


Of course, it’s easiest to set up accounts on new websites and applications with Facebook. That’s how they get you. But as soon as you “log in with Facebook” to another website, you give both parties a whole load more insight into your internet activity. Just set up an account with your email address, like we had to back in the day.


It’s not just Facebook that expertly collects your data. Your phone can betray you too. Ever go to upload a holiday #TBT photo to Instagram, and the suggested location tags are from your holiday destination? This is because your camera has permission to use geotagging. Switch that off. Anyone can look at a photograph’s geotag and know where it was taken if you don’t change this setting. Also, remove Facebook and Messenger’s access to your microphone. Just in case.