Facebook has nearly two billion users and is by far the most popular social networking site in the world. Recently, the social media giant has come under fire for the massive data scandal that gave Cambridge Analytica access to data from 87 million users during the 2016 general election. Many users are expressing outrage over seemingly weak security measures, but the reality is that Facebook users can take many steps on their own to make sure their most sensitive personal information doesn’t get shared with others.
If you make privacy an inherent part of your social networking experience, you’ll find that it’s rather easy to protect yourself. This article will outline some easy steps you can take in order to protect your personal data on Facebook.
1. Limit the Personal Information in Your Profile
You do have to share a bit of information about yourself to create a profile. However, you don’t need to share your entire life story. Instead, only give the least amount of information about yourself that registration requires. For added privacy, you don’t have to use the exact year you were born. That way you don’t have to worry about the company sharing your exact age and birthday with others (if you don’t want that information revealed).
2. Limit Access to Your Profile Information
Facebook does allow users to adjust privacy settings to control who can see their profiles and content. Take advantage of those privacy settings, and only let your friends or followers see your entire profile. You can also limit access to specific parts of your profile, such as your birthday or contact information.
3. Create a Secure Password and Change it Often
Password management is another essential tool to protect your Facebook data. Create a secure password, and don’t share it with anyone. Also, change your password regularly. Change your password immediately if you notice any suspicious activity on your account.
You should never share your account registration (username and password) with anyone. Many data thieves trick users into giving out their passwords – and then take over their Facebook profiles. If anyone ever contacts you asking for your registration details, report it to Facebook.
4. Prevent Your Profile from Appearing in Search results
Another critical way to protect yourself on Facebook is to control who can search for your profile. For example, you can set your profile to private, which prevents others from finding you and keeps it from showing up in Google search results (should someone search for you online). You can also control who can send you friend requests, or even disable the option for anyone to send you a friend request.
5. Only Accept Messages from Your Facebook Friends
In addition to controlling who can find you on Facebook, you can also control who can send you messages. Facebook messenger is often used by hackers to steal account information from users. For example, data thieves will send a message with a link that has malware, which then infects the user’s profile and steals their account information. Therefore, you should only accept messages from your Facebook friends. Unfortunately, you might also get spam messages from your friends if their profiles have become infected with malware. That means you should avoid clicking any links in messages that look suspicious.
6. Be Mindful of What You’re Sharing and Who Can See It
Many people enjoy sharing their entire life with the world via Facebook. Unfortunately, revealing too much information about yourself can hurt your professional life. Before you post something about yourself, think about how others will view you after seeing it. Also, think about how potential employers might feel if they saw your profile.
7. Use Lists and Audience Selector to Determine Who Can See Your Posts
If you want to limit who can see specific posts, you can use the Facebook Audience Selector tool to make the post public, limit it to friends, or even specific groups of friends. The Facebook Lists feature allows you to to segment your friends into different groups. Then when sharing posts, you can determine which groups can see the content and which cannot. This can also be done with individual people.
8. Don’t Click on Links You Don’t Trust
A common way that Facebook profiles get infected with malware is by following bad links or liking pages that contain malware links. Therefore, you should only like a page after you have verified that it is legitimate. For example, you can look for a check mark on a page to confirm that it is verified. Same goes for links. If you see a website you haven’t heard of before that’s offering you something that’s too good to be true, it’s probably best to move on.
9. Avoid Facebook Surveys (For Now)
Cambridge Analytica was able to steal user data by creating Facebook surveys. Apparently, there was a security hole that allowed the firm to get access to data from the profiles of those who participated in their studies. In fact, many data thieves create Facebook surveys to infect profiles with malware, so disreputable advertisers can spam users. Therefore, you should avoid Facebook surveys until the company fixes all security holes.
10. Revoke Permissions for Apps You Don’t Use (and Be Careful When Granting New Permissions)
It’s pretty standard these days for apps and third party websites to ask you for access to information from your Facebook profile. Cambridge Analytica, in fact, was able to scrape much of its data from users who granted these permissions to an affiliated personality app. Since allowing access to Facebook information is a prerequisite for so many apps, it’s important to keep track of every one that you’ve enabled and revoke permissions for those you no longer use. You can see your enabled apps by going to the settings menu and then clicking on the “apps” tab on the left.
You should also be careful when granting apps permission to use your profile data. Each app is required to get your consent before accessing your data, so it’s important that you carefully review what they’re asking for and determine whether you trust them with that information prior to moving forward.
11. Manage Your Advertising Preferences
Facebook makes money off of advertisements, but that doesn’t mean they can use all of your information at-will. Users have some control.
Visit the “Ads” tab in the “Settings” menu and turn off permissions for information Facebook is allowed to use to target ads, such as your relationship status and job title. You can further remove data on the interests that Facebook has gathered from your profile, also for the purpose of ad targeting.
12. Download Your Data and Complete a Privacy Check-up
If you’re concerned about privacy, the tips above will help protect you moving forward, but it’s also helpful to audit what’s already out there and check up on your privacy settings.
Facebook now allows users to download all of the data that the social network has on them, including messages, videos, photos, friends, ad topics, ad history, contacts, and more. You can download your data by accessing “settings” on your Facebook page, then clicking “download a copy of your Facebook data.”
You can also run a privacy checkup to run a survey of what’s being shared through your account and update privacy settings. Click the question mark icon on the top right of Facebook’s interface to start the process. Apart from guiding you through managing your privacy settings for third party apps and posts, the checkup also allows you to examine the info in the “About Me” section of your profile. From there, you can decide what details you want to be public and whether you want certain information on the platform at all.
13. Use Common Sense
Finally, use (and enjoy) Facebook with common sense. Understand, that the social media giant makes money by collecting user data – and then selling it to third-party advertisers. If you don’t like the idea of your data getting shared with advertisers, limit how much you share about yourself on Facebook. If you don’t want the kind of ads that appear on your profile, report them.
In short, don’t assume that Facebook will protect your data. Unfortunately, disreputable people will often find ways to exploit Facebook security loopholes so that they can gain access to user data. Therefore, you must limit how much you share about yourself on social media. Control who can find your profile, see your profile, and send you messages. Avoid clicking on suspicious links that might contain malware. Secure your profile with a secure password. Remember, Facebook is a for-profit company is very valuable to advertisers. Many market research firms love collecting user data so they can promote their brands to potential customers. That means you have to understand that your data (and whatever you post) might get shared with others.