Facebook (FB), the world’s largest social network, is in hot water yet again. The company, which was already facing scrutiny for selling ads to foreign groups seeking to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential election and inadvertently facilitating the spread of fake news and conspiracy theories, is getting hammered for allowing the profile data of 50 million Americans to be used by political operatives without users’ consent.
The group that used the data, Cambridge Analytica, did so to create and spread highly targeted advertisements seeking to elect Donald Trump and discredit Hillary Clinton in the lead up to the presidential election. But the organization received that information through questionable means, according to the New York Times.
The entire mess might have you wondering how you can control who sees your data on Facebook, or even how to delete your profile entirely. If that’s the case, I’ve got you covered.
Here’s how to control your data on Facebook, and, if you’re particularly fed up, how to delete your account entirely.
The data Facebook uses
Facebook lays out exactly what data it collects to craft a profile about you that can be used to target you with specific ads on its Data Use Policy site. And, as you might expect, it collects everything. Any post, like, comment, picture, video, friend you’ve added, news article or inside joke you’ve put on Facebook can be used as a means to serve you advertisements.
Facebook can also use data like your date of birth, location and other information to provide you with ads you might find relevant, and improve the site itself.
Think of it as the built-in cost of using a massive service like Facebook for free.
It’s not just the information you share on Facebook that gets scooped up, though. All of those sites and services you log into using your Facebook account have access to some of your data, and how they handle that info is up to them.
Then there’s the content friends post about you. Yes, all of those pictures, memes and stories your friends tag you in get collected by Facebook, too. And unfortunately, you don’t have control of that information since you didn’t post it.
It’s important to note that Facebook isn’t the only company that collects and uses your data like this. Google (GOOG, GOOGL) and Twitter (TWTR) also use information about you to determine which advertisements to show you and help advertisers better target their campaigns.
Controlling your data
Facebook considers information you share publicly to be fair game for use with targeted advertisements. And while you can change the visibility of some of your data such as posts and photos, information like your name, profile picture and cover photo, networks, gender, username and user ID (how apps identify you) are always considered public.
If you want to see fewer ads regarding a specific topic on Facebook, you can visit the Facebook Ad Preferences site. From here, you can control what kind of information Facebook thinks it knows about you. You won’t actually be able to delete that data, but you’ll be able to control the kinds of ads you see.
For example, Facebook recognizes that I’ve interacted with pages about action role-playing games, Hulu, the Wall Street Journal and others. If I no longer want to see ads about those topics, I can simply click the “X” icon in the top right corner of each interest.
You can also remove yourself from categories that Facebook matches you up with that help advertisers serve you certain ads. Facebook, for instance, lists me as being an engaged shopper, commuter, console gamer and early adopter. I can, however, remove myself from those categories to stop seeing ads based on that content.
Similarly, you can choose to prevent Facebook from showing you online interest-based ads or ads on apps and websites by opting out of these settings.
Then there are apps including games and services like Spotify that can access your basic Facebook profile information. If you never want to use those services again, you can disable them from your Facebook account by turning off Facebook Platform applications. Once you do that, these outside apps will no longer have access to your profile data.
For apps like Spotify, which allows you to log in with your Facebook account, you’ll need to cancel your Facebook-based profile and start a new one with a standard login.
Of course, if you’re completely at the end of your rope when it comes to Facebook, you can simply choose to erase your presence from the service by deleting your account. Before you do so, though, it’s worth noting that getting rid of your Facebook account also means you’ll be cutting yourself off from a large chunk of your online social circle.
You won’t be able to spy on that one guy who dumped you in high school or call out Brad when he tells you he was too sick to hang out last night, but still managed to post pictures of himself at the bar with Sharon.
If you’re willing to give that up, along with the ability to send and receive invitations to various parties, which is why I primarily use the service, then you can take the leap and say goodbye to your account.
Before you do that, though, you should know that deleting your account means saying goodbye to all of those photos and videos you’ve uploaded to the service over the years. To save those, you can download your Facebook archive by navigating to the Settings menu from the Facebook desktop site.
Next, click “General” and select “Download a copy of your Facebook data” at the bottom of the page. This will ensure you have access to everything you’ve posted on the site since you originally joined.
Now you can delete your account. To do so you’ll need to follow this link, as Facebook seems to purposely make it difficult to end your relationship with the site.
Click “Delete my Account,” and you’ll see a pop-up window asking you if you’re sure you want to delete your profile. You’ll then need to enter your password and fill out a Captcha to confirm your decision.
It could take up to 90 days for Facebook to fully delete all of the information you’ve uploaded to its servers. During that time, no one will be able to interact with your account.
Unfortunately, some things won’t be deleted during this process including posts you’ve been tagged in or messages you’ve previously sent to friends.
And that’s that. You’re now done with Facebook forever. Unless, that is, you’ve got Messenger, WhatsApp or Instagram, all of which are owned by Facebook.
Come on. You didn’t really think it would be that easy to leave, did you?
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Email Daniel Howley at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.