A raft of recent scandals has called into question Facebook’s commitment to user privacy. But while the platform plays Whack-a-Mole with allegations of unethical data harvesting, what’s a user to do?
Short of deleting Facebook entirely - a drastic step, and a surprisingly difficult one - here are five steps you can take right now to make Facebook a safer experience for everyone in your family. Yourself included.
STEP ONE: Turn off location services
Location data is arguably the most sensitive data a user can grant to any app. Why? Because it allows businesses to know your whereabouts, your daily routines, and the restaurants and shops you frequent. Facebook sells this data to advertisers, and that’s something many users don’t understand. (Which is why it sometimes seems Facebook is literally “listening” to your conversations online.)
To turn off or limit Facebook’s access to your location on iPhone, go to the Settings app, scroll down to “Privacy” under the general tab, and tap “Location Services.” From there you can disable the feature entirely and/or toggle it on and off on an app-by-app basis.
On Android, head to “Account Settings” and tap “Location.” From there, you can toggle Facebook’s access from on to off.
STEP TWO: Unlink unnecessary third-party apps
Most Facebook users have unthinkingly allowed third-party apps to access their data for years. This is exactly how the now-notorious electoral consulting firm Cambridge Analytica scraped data from some 87 million profiles, disguised as an innocent-sounding third-party app called “thisisyourdigitallife.”
To unlink third-party apps, head to the “Apps” section of your Facebook settings (this is easiest on a computer but can be done on a mobile as well). There you’ll see the total number of apps you’re logged into via Facebook. Scroll to the bottom to the “Apps, Websites and Plugins” square, click edit, and turn off all third-party access.
You can also go through the app list manually and disable any unnecessary services.
STEP THREE: Limit sharing settings
This is complicated - and again best done on a computer.
First off, click on the triangle next to the question mark icon in the upper right corner of the screen. From there, find the “Settings” option at the bottom and then click on “Privacy.”
For optimal privacy, change the option for “Who can see your future posts?” to “friends only.”
Below that, you can toggle how people can find you on the platform and contact you - including whether your profile shows up in search engines.
The scariest and probably least well known privacy setting has the creepy name “Facial Recognition” - basically, if you don’t want FB to be able to recognise you in photos and videos other people post, turn that off too.
STEP FOUR: Remove personal info
Edit your “About Me” section by clicking on the question mark icon in the upper right corner of the page and click on “Privacy Checkup.” Continue on to Step Two, which offers the option to go to your About Page. From there you can make your edits.
STEP FIVE: Restrict ad preferences
Finally, go to the Ad Preferences page here to block advertisers from targeting ads based on your personal information, your relationship status, your job any of the dozens of categories Facebook has automatically selected for you based on the information you’ve (probably unwittingly) provided.
Facebook is a wonderful social network - within limits. And recent events have been a real wake-up call about taking personal responsibility for setting those limits. After you’ve changed your privacy settings, consider other ways you might want to manage your family’s engagement with social media - whether by blocking apps entirely for younger kids or restricting screen-time for older teens.
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