Facebook does not make it easy to protect your privacy! You should not use Facebook unless you take these steps to protect yourself. In fact, in essentially all cases, Facebook “privacy” defaults to “anti-privacy”, sharing your information as widely as possible!
Update: I began writing this a few days ago. Facebook has since announced that in “a few weeks” they will make it easier to set your privacy settings. At the present time, Facebook has hidden most of the privacy settings in about 20 different locations. Setting privacy options, like deleting content, has been near impossible on Facebook. The options under “Privacy” have little to do with privacy.
Because Facebook will be rolling out an entirely new system for controlling privacy and deleting our own data, the following instructions – which work as of right now – may end up being a historical document about how bad Facebook became.
Download the Facebook Archive and Learn What they Have Recorded About You
Some people have reported archives up to several gigabytes in size.
To download your archive, go to Settings | General and find the Download a copy at the bottom of the page. Follow the instructions to download the archive.
NOTE – my archive was missing many of the 1000 or so photos I had uploaded. However, I could go to the separate Facebook page for Photos, click on Albums, and then download each album, one by one by clicking on the gear icon that appear at upper right of each Album as my mouse was moved the Album, and choosing the Download option. Before you delete things that you want to save, be sure to check whether they really are stored in the archives.
Never submit contact lists to online services like Facebook or Instagram. Each recommends you upload your contact list to help you find friends. The main purpose is for Facebook to acquire your contacts and their information including names, email addresses, and phone numbers. Facebook uses this information to create “graphs” of how people are related to one another and will also use it to suggest people as “friends”. This information may also be used to apply peer pressure – “your friend Bob is also using this product” …
Who knows what else they are using it for? Best bet: never upload Contacts. If you have already uploaded Contacts, edit the list or delete it.
Remove all Imported Contacts
Or Edit your Imported Contacts List here
Because this post is so long – you should read all of it – you need to Click the next link to continue on to the rest of the post!
This is the most comprehensive list of Facebook privacy options that I have seen on the Internet so far.
Cleaning Up Facebook Privacy Options
Step 1 is to delete your account if you can. Under terms of a prior settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Facebook is supposed to lock up data they collected from you within 30 days of account deletion.
If deletion is not possible, the next step is to disable Facebook tracking features in Facebook itself. Facebook does not make this easy or obvious – instead they hide privacy features and their settings all over the user interface. Worse, Facebook default settings are to share most everything you do publicly and with advertisers.
The following assumes you are logging in from a notebook or desktop computer; iPhone and Android have their own interfaces for accessing some of these features. This tutorial does not cover the use of smart phones – and you may need to make privacy settings separately in the apps.
To adjust settings you need to access the Settings options under the small down triangle at upper right, when logged into Facebook. While there is an option labeled “Privacy”, this option does little and is to distract you from the actual privacy settings. All of this is hidden under a meaningless tiny triangle at the upper right of the FB menu bar – because Facebook does not want you to adjust these Settings.
You need to check every item on the Settings menu and pursue every hidden, grayed option for “More” buried throughout the interface, to set Privacy options appropriately.
Click on General, and then and Security and Login and set options even remotely connected to privacy or data collection to the tightest possible.
On Timeline and Tagging, disable others tagging you in photos.
The purpose of this feature, as disclosed by Facebook, is to improve their facial recognition database so they can automatically identify you in photos posted by others. Tagging you in photos is not done for your convenience but to create a photo recognition database that Facebook can sell to police agencies and private security companies and to learn more about you for advertising and propaganda.
Limit who can post on your timeline and disable Tagging options by setting them to “Only me”. Set the “Review” options to “On” so that nothing gets posted until you have reviewed it.
Privacy Settings and Tools
This page sets only whether or not your posts are to Friends or are Public, and who can find you or send Friend requests to you. While vaguely related to privacy, this has nothing to do with the spying that Facebook performs.
As a general rule all of your posts should be sent to your Friends ONLY and not to Public. Facebook enables applications to scrape everything you have ever done if it is “Public”. This includes your posts, your online comments and any Likes of other people’s public posts.
Here are suggested settings:
Set this to “No”.
Turn off all Notifications. You do not need to get notified every time a “Friend” posts something online. You do not need to get spammed by Facebook because you did not log in for a few hours. Turn off everything except Security alerts.
DO NOT EVER give Facebook your phone number. If Facebook already has your phone number, delete it. Facebook pesters you to provide them with a phone number to “protect your account”. But that is not its main use. The primary reason Facebook wants your phone number is they use it to link your online activities with your offline retail store purchases. They buy your retail store purchase history from third party companies – and use your phone number as a primary “database key” to access your data. They may also use your email address and your credit card number if you ever provided a credit card number to Facebook (as needed for buying ads, or access to some games and other features). Facebook also sells your online activity to the offline data base companies. (Facebook has announced it will discontinue third party data base usage within 6 months.)
DO NOT ADD a phone number and if you did, delete it.
Apps, Ads and Payments hide the “real” privacy settings. Who knew that privacy settings were titled “Apps” and “Ads”? That is obvious to all of us, isn’t it?
None of this looks like Privacy settings, but all of them are. If you can, use the Edit button under Apps, Websites and Plugins and disable this feature. Unfortunately, I use one App to cross post this blog to the Facebook page so I need to have this enabled. However, all other individual apps were deleted. I was surprised to find 40-50 apps tied to my account over the years. Presumably all of them were spying on me and collecting my personal data. I assume everything I have posted on FB, including private posts, is now out in the world, for all posts made at least 2007 to 2015, and possibly as late as October 2017.
Be sure to delete all possible apps. Do not be shy – delete aggressively. If you need no apps, then set the Apps, Websites and Plugins item to Disabled.
“Apps Other Use” is a treasure trove of hidden privacy data. This means, when your Friends use an app that gives permission to access your “Friends”, all of the following data is revealed to that app – run by your friend. You have no idea what app they are running or what is happening to your data. When I first opened this dialog, most items were checked for sharing. I never even knew this privacy option existed.
Even more crazy, Facebook claims they disabled most “Apps Others Use” from sharing data a long time ago. If true, then why did they still have these options in 2018?
Update: As of 31 March 2018, Facebook now says the Apps Others Use options have been disabled, claiming they no longer apply since 2014. It took 4 years to remove an “unused” feature and no one noticed?
Here is the screen that Facebook now shows for “Apps Others Use”
Next on our journey into Facebook’s mysterious privacy options is the “Ads” section. It is here where Facebook shows you some of the information they have collected on you.
Click on Your interests and find a huge list of things that Facebook thinks you are interested in. This list seems to be mostly created from Groups and Pages you have liked, plus what apps you have installed on your phone (if you have ever installed Facebook apps on your phone, they log all the apps you are using on your phone). It might also be created from analyzing the text of your posts and comments.
Be sure to click on the greyed out items, such as “Other” and the greyed out “See More” at the bottom of the list. Facebook works hard to hide everything from you – this is by design.
IMPORTANT – once you log out and come back in a few hours, Facebook starts generating a new list of Interests. You will need to periodically go through and delete the Interests.
Advertisers You’ve Interacted With
Click on this and delete all of them. Be sure to look for greyed out categories and “More” links.
Turn everything off in the “About you” category.
Check “Your categories”
Each person’s “categories” will be different. Below is the set of information they presented to me. My wife’s “categories” showed completely different items.
Here you will find Facebook has divided everyone into just 1 of 4 possible political categories. You may only be Very Liberal, Liberal, Conservative or Very Conservative. Facebook does not allow you to be “Middle of the road”, “Independent”, “Libertarian”, “Socialist” or so on.
Here is what they showed for me and every item is wrong. You can delete these items but why correct their bad data?
Turn everything off.
Click on Payments
Delete any credit card information you have ever provided to Facebook.
On the left side of your Facebook page, you’ll find a set of options.
Edit Your Groups, Pages and Friends Lists
Many of us have joined Groups, sometimes lots of Groups, on Facebook. We have Liked or Followed “Pages”. Over a decade I had joined 65 groups! I had Liked numerous pages (I never counted the total). Each time we join a group or like a page, Facebook uses that to identify a characteristic about us for use in propaganda sent to us.
Since Facebook filters our “News” feed of what we see, we seldom see posts from the Groups and Pages we follow, unless we have interacted with those pages recently. If we did not Like, Comment or Share on the posts in Groups, Pages or Friends, Facebook assumes we are not interested and filters out posts from these sources in the future.
Consequently Liking a page has little value to us, but much value to Facebook. Their goal is to get inside our mind – and our Likes are what reveal our secrets. Likes are the key way that Facebook spies on our brain and our inner thoughts. For this reason, I will never gain click Like on a post and you should be very cautious about what you like.
Now is a great time to go through and drop out of Groups that you do not care about and which you probably never see. Do it. Then come back in a few days and do it again. I dropped out of half my groups on the first day. A couple of days later, I realized even more of the Groups were not of interest to me and deleted more. It gets easier to identify what is really important when you do this over time. After a week, I had cut my Groups from 65 to 5.
I unliked all Pages since I never saw their posts due to Facebook filtering.
Now is a good time to edit your Friends lists. My new policy is to restrict Friends to people I know in real life or to people who share a common interest and whom I have interacted with on a regular basis, online. All others are unfriended. Using this I dropped 1/4 of my friends and will cut more in another week.
By taking these basic steps, you remove a ton of useless clutter from your news feed and find yourself wasting less time on Facebook.
Go into the Events section and delete Events
Have you ever clicked on a “Going” or “Interested” item for an Event? Facebook logs all of this to learn about you. I had deleted all my Event history so there is nothing to show here.
However, you will likely find a list of all past events if you’ve marked as interested in or going to. Delete everything.
More hidden set of options! At the bottom of the Explore options is an item labeled “See More…”
Click on that and see:
Check each item, especially Photos and Recent Ad Activity. Delete away!
Delete Old Posts, Likes, Comments
Click on your user name at top, and then find the View Activity option near top center to right of the next page.
Here you can scroll through a list of everything you have ever done on Facebook. By clicking on the icon at the upper right of each post, you can delete most options or change Likes to unlike. Some items cannot be deleted but you can instead choose “Hidden from your timeline” to hide it.
In a practical sense, this Facebook feature is useless. I had content from 2007 up to 2018. Going through and changing or deleting thousands of items one by one is unusable.
Alternative: If you use the Chrome browser, install the Chrome extension “Social Book Manager”. You can use it to bulk select items and delete them or unlike them. This extension is a script that automatically does what you would have to do – go down the page, select each item, and then delete or unlike the item. Consequently, it is not fast, and Facebook can be slow at performing these operations (I believe Facebook is intentionally slow at deleting items by design to make it hard to delete items).
When I used Social Book Manager to delete years where I had clicked a lot of Likes, it missed a lot of items as it ran through the Log. When that happens, run it again. And again, as needed, until everything is gone.
Sometimes it works better if you select an individual month to clean up – say, December 2015, and run it to delete items from the single month. You can also select items by keyword search, if you want to.
Again, this process is not fast. You’ll want to be doing other things while this runs. I think the process took many hours over 2 days to delete all of my 2007-2017 items.
If you have made it this far, you’ve crossed huge hurdles put in place by Facebook to prevent you from protecting your privacy. Congratulations!
In a few weeks, most of these instructions will be obsolete. Facebook promises to provide an easier to use set of privacy options – but thye have a long history of making such announcements to the point that Facebook is mostly telling lies. I would not be surprised if they provide new options, continue to hide settings, and use confusing wording to prevent people from setting appropriate privacy options.
PART 4 – Will cover how to protect yourself while using the web. Facebook is still tracking you whether you are logged in or not and can potentially track half or more of your web site visits.