Facebook privacy

Facebook has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. If you aren’t sure what the Cambridge Analytica scandal is all about, this article from the New York Times explains it.

I listened with interest as Mark Zuckerburg testified before the House Energy & Commerce Committee. One of the themes he stressed was the ability of each user to see what information Facebook has about them and control the use of the data. The degree to which you trust Facebook is another topic for another day.

This article focuses on some easy things you can do right now to improve the security of your information.

Run the “Privacy Checkup”

While logged into Facebook, look at the blue bar at the top of the site. On the right-hand side of that bar is a question mark. Click on it, and then select “Privacy Checkup.”

Who do you want to be able to see your posts? If yours says “Public,” it’s time to change that. “Friends” is the usual setting. Do you hate to “unfriend” someone but don’t want that person to see what you post? You’ll see a setting to make it happen. Are you a private person and want to greatly restrict who sees your posts? You have that control also.

Facebook privacy

Take a minute to run the “Privacy Checkup”

Which apps have you allowed access to Facebook? Remember the times a site offered to let you “Log in with Facebook” and you chose that option? You will see them listed here. You will also see any site that you have allowed to post for you. For example, when this article appears, If This Then That will automatically post something on Facebook. That little bit of automation frees me from a routine, mechanical task. The price I pay is that I have to trust Facebook to act responsibly.

Apps with access to Facebook

The final part of this check is to see who has access to your phone number, email address, or birthday. While allowing “Friends” to see your phone number, it’s probably not something you want to the world to have. One change I made was restricting my hometown from “Public” to “Friends.”

This whole process will take you less than five minutes.

Look at everything in “Settings”

On the blue bar, just to the right of the question mark, click on the downward-pointing arrow. Toward the bottom of the list is “Settings.”

Facebook privacy

Examine every menu item

Take a half-hour to click every one of those menus. Look at what you’ve chosen. Look at the options available. Do you really want the entire world to see your entire list of friends? Are you being inundated with notifications? Here is where you can fix those.

I was particularly interested in the “Ads” menu item towards the bottom of the list. You’ll see what Facebook thinks you are interested in based on what you have clicked. If you see logos that are of no interest, hover the mouse over them an click the “x.”

Facebook Privacy

How Facebook determines ads you will see

Download all your data

Mark Zuckerberg talked about the ability for users to download everything Facebook knows about them. I decided to give that one a try. The process turned out to be much easier than I had imagined.

Return to the Facebook settings. Look at the first item, the one marked “General.” One of the items on this page is a place to tell Facebook what to do should you pass away.  Below that is the link you want: “Download a copy of your Facebook data.”

After supplying your Facebook password, submit the request. Facebook sends an email with a link you’ll click to continue the process. Facebook prepares the download and sends an email when it’s ready. Click the link in that email to download your data.

“We are a people who demand both convenience and privacy, and sometimes fail to realize the one interferes with the other.”

What can you expect?

My download took about 5 minutes. The size was 275MB…very manageable. The information is contained in a zip file on my desktop. Inside it are four folders: HTML, Messages, Photos, and Videos, plus an Index. Albums seem to be organized in folders within the Photo folder. Each item is labeled with a series of numbers, so you will have to do some hunting to find what you want. The date field is of no help, as it represents the download date, not the date you took the photo.

Facebook privacy

Folders in the download

Facebook privacy

Partial shot of photos folder

For the most part, what you see is what you uploaded to Facebook. For example, a tracking log of sites you visited is not part of the download. Nor will you see mention of with whom your data has been shared. However, a file called “ads” seems to list the advertisements served up to you during your browsing.

The best reason for the data download is to give you a shot at an organized photo library. Most people are good at taking pictures of what’s happening right now, but poor at organizing them for the future. Some photos are on their phone. Others are on Facebook. Still others are on Instagram.

While you may not have done a good job at saving your photos, Facebook has been doing a great job of it. If you don’t mind taking on the project of labeling your photos (or at least the folders they are in), this download will be valuable. In another article, I’ll talk about my favorite way to store your digital photos.

Going forward

Is Facebook heroic or is it evil? We are a people who demand both convenience and privacy, and sometimes fail to realize the one interferes with the other.

While Facebook serves up advertisement for the items we scour the Internet to find, we loathe the algorithm that makes it happen. We like “free,” but fail to realize that if we are not paying for the product, we become the product.

Today, some people will abandon their Facebook accounts. Others will make adjustments to their accounts to make them work better. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably in the second camp. So, let’s get started.