Before you #DeleteFacebook, try taking control

Published March 26, 2018
MOSCOW: A man holds a smartphone with the icons for the social networking apps Facebook, Instagram and Twitter seen on the screen on Friday.—AFP
MOSCOW: A man holds a smartphone with the icons for the social networking apps Facebook, Instagram and Twitter seen on the screen on Friday.—AFP

#DeleteFacebook is trending on social media.

But you don’t have to do anything as radical as deleting the app that keeps you in touch with friends, family members and so many Russian bots. Instead, consider taking full control of your account. A few steps can eliminate Facebook as a nefarious actor in your life, wrestling it into submission as a benign app.

I have been a sceptic about Facebook pretty much from the beginning — it’s likely a generational thing. I have had issues with the lack of privacy protections and how the company monetised me as a user. A precept from the 1970s, said originally about television, is applicable to technology and media: If you are not paying for a product, then you are the product.

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, understood this from the beginning. He is of the generation that never really cared much about privacy or data security. What made Facebook so valuable was its business model of monetising private information and online behaviour. In light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, people are now waking up to how dangerous that model can be.

In theory, the idea of an app that connects you to friends from grade school, summer camp or high school, or to people who share your interests, to your college friends and former co-workers, should be harmless fun. In practice, it is fraught with danger. You can dramatically reduce those risks by making some small changes in your Facebook behaviour.

A few easy steps to wrestle the social media app into submission

Like any new habit, it will take a month or two to get used to it. My experience has been that the trade-offs for doing these steps are ultimately worth it.

Log out

When you are using FB, log in as normal. Do whatever you want to do. Then LOG OUT. That is not easy to find — by design. Look for it in the dropdown menu under the little triangle on the far right of the screen. Log out is the bottom menu option. How Facebook uses your data and personal web browsing history may be the least understood aspect of the app. Many sites provide advice on stopping Facebook from tracking you while browsing. These approaches help somewhat, but aren’t foolproof. And Facebook still gets anonymous data from third parties; they can and do match this data to your identity. One other thing: stop clicking “like” on other sites: doing so shares data with Facebook about where you are and what you are doing. Your choices are not anonymous.

Adjust privacy settings

Go to your Settings (also under that inverted triangle). There are 15 topics (found on far left of screen — General, Privacy, etc.). Set as many things as possible to the most private possible setting — “Private” and “Only me” are the strongest, then “Only friends.” Work your way through each of the privacy settings, turning off location tracking (No, do not “check in” anywhere, you reckless fool). Also, go to the advertising preferences, and set that on the most reduced setting. The setting “Friends of friends” is an invitation for trolls and others to access your information. Be aware of the personal information you are sharing with strangers. Speaking of which:

Strip out personal information

First, understand that whatever you voluntarily put on Facebook can and will be eventually used or shared (note my actual birthday is accurate, but not the year of my birth). It serves little purpose there — other than helping Facebook hit its revenue goals — so get rid of as much of it as you can. What music or books you like, where you have worked, the places you visit: None of this makes much of a difference, other than creating a profile to serve advertising to you or to be sold to third parties. Note you cannot get rid of an email address, so I use Leemail, a specific program that allows me to see when Facebook or others sell or otherwise share my email address.

UnFriend

Eliminate all of those in your friend list who have no real and true connection to you. This means mere acquaintances, friends of friends of friends, work colleagues from three jobs ago and random salespeople who may have reached out to you. Same with social groups, clubs, etc. that you are not active in.

As with Twitter, you can take control of Facebook. It can be a useful app, if used with the appropriate degree of caution and security. The company is greatly incentivised to mine your information and behaviour for its profit. The onus is on you to protect your data and privacy, and yourself.

Bloomberg/The Washington Post Service

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, March 26th, 2018

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