delete my FacebookThe recent Cambridge Analytica news story is still unfolding, and since our article last week there have been new developments, including various statements from Mark Zuckerberg and now the FTC has opened an investigation. While Facebook has unveiled a plan of action to rectify the situation, it’s being viewed by many as too little too late. With the frustration mounting, we’re tackling the question of whether or not you should delete your Facebook account and detailing how you can strengthen your security should you decide to continue using the service.

What to consider if you decide to delete Facebook

The Cambridge Analytica story is likely the push many of us needed to begin critically assessing our Facebook addiction, but should you delete Facebook? The answer is personal, but if you’re considering doing so you should first evaluate your reasons.

If you want to delete your account solely to avoid Facebook’s reach, doing so – at least by itself – really won’t help much. To understand why, first consider that in 10 years, Facebook went from having 1 million users to 1 billion users and its numbers, while slowing, haven’t stopped climbing. The sheer size of Facebook means that even if you’re not using it, data miners still might be able to make inferences about your life, either from friends who still have accounts or data about you they already have. Furthermore, any data breaches involving users might include your information if your friends share tidbits about you online or if your information is still on Facebook’s servers. For this reason, academic researcher David Garcia likens the contemporary climate surrounding privacy issues to a collective action problem, like climate change. Privacy is no longer solely an individual’s choice when all our lives are so intimately connected and when companies have the tools to learn about us from others.

If you’re still committed to deleting Facebook, keep in mind that the company is more connected to your life than you may realize, and terminating your account does nothing to obscure it. How can you address this? Quartz compiled a long list of all the URLs you’ll need to write into your computer’s hosts file; without doing so, you won’t get far. Aside from this, you’ll also want to familiarize yourself with the tools that most privacy experts use. Finally, don’t forget if you use Facebook to log into third party accounts, like Spotify or any games you play, you’ll have to disassociate them first or risk rendering them unusable.

It’s worth noting that even if many people do wind up leaving Facebook, some have pointed out that in many developing nations Facebook essentially is the Internet. Because of that, despite how much we protest and threaten to leave, it’s very possible that Facebook might emerge relatively unscathed from this debacle. Still, there are plenty of valid reasons to want to leave the platform regardless of whatever happens to Facebook.

How do you delete your account?

Facebook allows two distinct options, deactivation and deletion. Deactivation just suspends your account, while deleting removes it forever. You should make your decision based on what you want. If you aren’t sure, you can always start with deactivation and delete later. Facebook makes it hard to find both options, so avoid the workaround, click here to deactivate your account and here to delete it. If you delete your account, keep in mind that it takes some time for your data to leave Facebook’s servers. In addition, since web services have redundancies and backups, it’s entirely conceivable your data will exist in some form after it’s removed from the server, and if your friends kept any backups of your posts and content, they’ll also still exist. If you want a backup of your content, you should request a backup here before deleting your account. Even if you don’t plan to delete your account, you may want to request a backup, as it can help you see what information Facebook actually collected about you – Android users may be surprised to see their call logs and text history.

What to do if you decide to stay?

If you decide to stay, you’ll need to beef up your account’s security. As stated above, everyone’s privacy depends on every user being aware of how their actions impact others’ privacy. Below are some tips for keeping you and your friends safe.

Watch how you use Facebook

This is something we’ve talked about repeatedly, and it boils down to one thing – don’t overshare. No matter who you are, parent or child, college student or retiree, be mindful about the details you share online. Be particularly careful of broadcasting your location and posting photos of others, especially those who don’t have social media accounts.

Understand how companies think

When it comes to tech companies, we’re often reminded by experts that we’re not the customers of these companies; we’re their product. We alluded to that briefly in our initial coverage of the Cambridge Analytica story, where we talked about the rush to digitize and extract data from the various facets of consumers’ lives. While many of us don’t think that our selfies and food photos amount to much, it’s crucial for you to understand the concept of metadata. Through metadata – information about things like where you took the photo, at what time and with what device – companies can make inferences about who you are, where you live and what you like to do. Additionally, hackers or those with unauthorized access to your data and devices might be able to make the same inferences, as well. Understanding metadata will help you begin to comprehend the risks of oversharing and how a company can use your photos or posts against you.

How can I fortify my Facebook account?

If you continue to use Facebook, the company will inevitably collect information about you, but there are some things you can do to beef up your account’s security. In addition to some of the tips above (using privacy tools and adding these Facebook links to your hosts file), consider the following:

Conduct a Facebook privacy check. Back in 2015, Facebook unveiled a tool called Privacy Checkup for users. The tool hasn’t really changed much since we covered it, but we’ll still highlight what it does. Through Privacy Checkup, you can get a quick, global look at your privacy. It allows you to modify who has access to your posts, determine what apps are currently connected to your account and see what parts of your profile are publicly viewable. The second aspect, app permissions, is very important as that’s how Cambridge Analytica had access to user data. If you haven’t taken a look at the Privacy Checkup page to clean out the app permissions, all of those old quizzes and games you played technically can still access your account. Make sure to remove these apps as soon as possible.

Limit or turn off app integration entirely. In addition to preventing any unwanted or old applications from having access to your account, you can consider just turning off the API that allows apps to connect to your account. The EFF details how to do so here. Keep in mind that if you have some app integrations you’re okay with (e.g., logging into Spotify through Facebook) this feature might be too aggressive. In the same article, though, the EFF details how to limit the types of data that integrated apps can have access to, which is a less drastic alternative.

Read ToS changes for new apps and tools. In a previous post, we made the case that you should try to skim a service’s terms of service agreement as best you can. Doing so might help make you aware of subtle changes to the service that might be less favorable to your privacy. As we pointed out, the objective isn’t to know everything about the terms of service agreement (which is nearly impossible), but to familiarize yourself key changes or updates. Sites like TOSback are useful in helping with this.

Check your settings on your devices. Every app, including Facebook, requests what are known as permissions from your device — be it your phone or desktop computer. In your phone’s settings, you can control what features of your device – from your camera to your location – Facebook has access to. On your computer, you should think about disabling your webcam (if you don’t use something to cover it), your microphone and your location data (here’s how to do it on a Mac and in Windows). You should only turn them on when you need to.

Control ad preferences. Facebook has a feature, where it allows you to control the types of advertisements it displays to you. You can periodically correct or remove the details that it’s collected from you (however you cannot opt-out of ads entirely). You should visit this page to learn what Facebook knows about you and decide if you want targeted advertising. Although there’s no way to stop Facebook from discovering more about you, logging out of your sessions when you’re finished using the site or app, can also limit what Facebook learns about you.

While this Facebook saga continues to unfold, you’ll want to not only make sure you stay in the know with how the company uses your data, but also make steps to protect yourself. For more information about this and other stories affecting your privacy, check out our privacy blog.