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Over the weekend, it was revealed that a political research firm had harvested data from nearly 50 million Facebook profiles.
It’s not entirely accurate to call the incident a “data breach.” Most of the user data that the firm, Cambridge Analytica, had access to was handed over willingly by those users.
Basically, those users gave Facebook permissions to a personality quiz app. It was only after media outlets reported that the app’s creator gave that data to Cambridge Analytica that Facebook took action and pulled the plug — claiming that sharing user data was against their rules.
App developers can request to access a lot of your Facebook data, from your religious and political beliefs, to your friends list and public posts. Services, social media sites and platforms that you use Facebook to sign up for can also ask for this data.
Worse still, we may be giving access to that private data without really thinking about it. With the recent news, now is a good time to review and shore up your privacy practices on Facebook. Here’s how.
Digital and online privacy is a pretty expansive topic, and there are numerous facets of it that can involve Facebook and social media.
So, in the interest of time, we’ll focus on one particular area: the personal data that third-party services and platforms can access — and probably already do.
1 Think About Who You Grant Permission To
When you use a Facebook app, that app will typically ask for permission to view and access some of your personal data.
But it’s not just personality quizzes and Facebook games. There’s a wide range of social media platforms, websites, iOS apps and services that allow you to login or create a new account via your Facebook profile.
When you sign up for their platforms, they can also ask to see some of your personal data.
Facebook’s privacy and permission policies also change and have tightened up in recent years. While that means their policies are stricter now, it also means that apps you granted access to before 2014 may have permission to see a ton of your data.
The pre-2014 permission access allows these apps to see your relationships, interests, birthdays, education history, status updates, work history, notes — and a slew of data points on your friends, too.
2 Review Apps You’ve Given Access To
You can carefully weigh what data points third-parties can access in the future and hopefully mitigate any issues. But chances are you’ve already granted permission to quite a few apps and platforms already.
Luckily, you can review the overall lists of platforms and parties by doing the following.
If you’re on a computer, then use the following steps.
- Open up your favorite browser and log in to Facebook.
- Click the downward-arrow in the upper-right corner of the screen.
- Click Settings.
- On the left-hand, click on Apps.
Alternatively, if you’re on mobile (iOS and Android), then do this.
- Open Facebook.
- Tap on the three-lined icon in the bottom right.
- Scroll down and tap on Settings.
- Tap on Account Settings.
- Scroll down and tap on Apps.
In either case, you’ll see a Logged in with Facebook category. This is where all of your app permissions live.
If you spot an app that you’re not keen on having access to your data, you have two options.
- Revoke App Permissions. You can take away an app’s ability to see your data entirely. On a computer, hover over the app in question and click the X. On mobile, tap on the app and scroll down. Tap Remove App.
- Edit App Permissions. Alternatively, you can simply adjust the amount of data that apps can see. On a computer, hover over the app and click Edit. Click the blue checkmark next to the particular data point you’d like to revoke. On mobile, tap on the app and then the data point to remove it.
3 Revoke Data Access from Apps Other Use
Unfortunately, it’s not just your own apps and platforms that can access your data. Your friends’ apps can, too. That means a personality quiz that your Facebook friend signs up for can —theoretically — view your hometown, religious and political preferences, and other data points.
To edit what they can see, try this.
- On mobile or desktop, tap on the section that says Apps others use.
- From here, you can edit the data points that friends’ apps can access.
- While there’s no specific toggle to turn it off, if you remove all data points, then the feature is technically “disabled.”
4 Consider Contacting The Third-Party
There’s an important point to note here. Performing the steps above only revokes current and future access to your data.
In other words, third-party apps may have already collected your data. Those apps may very well be storing that data, too.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot you can do at this point — but you can try contacting the developer and asking to have your data removed.
- On your computer, click on the app in question. At the very bottom of the pop-up window, you’ll see (in small text) an option that says Report App. In the next window, click I want to send my own message to the developer.
- On mobile, tap on an app. Scroll down and tap Report App. Select I want to send my own message to the developer.
You can then write up a message asking them to delete your data. There’s nothing in Facebook’s policies that state developers must fulfill your request — but it’s worth a shot.
Of course, reviewing your app permissions is only one aspect of online privacy. In fact, it’s only one aspect of Facebook privacy. There’s perhaps too much to cover here, but there are a few key takeaways to keep in mind.
- Know that your Facebook profile is public. Anyone can see your profile picture, gender, name and other fairly general but still personal information (even if they’re not your friend). That can include the pages you like and comment on.
- Check your post privacy. When you’re creating a status, you can change whether the post is public (open to anyone on or off Facebook).
- Consider a Privacy Checkup. Facebook offers a built-in feature that easily allows you to see some of your privacy preferences.
- On a computer, click the ? icon and Privacy Checkup. On mobile, scroll down and click on Privacy Shortcuts and then Privacy Checkup.