Should You Delete Your Facebook Account?

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The following was published in today’s Foster’s and Seacoast Sunday.

Should you delete your Facebook account?

Probably not, though thousands of Facebook users are in the wake of the data-sharing controversy involving Cambridge Analytica, a British firm that specializes in data mining. In a nutshell, the firm scours the internet for your digital history and uses that information to build a psychographic profile of you others may want to purchase from it. In the case of the current controversy involving Facebook, the profile data was used by the Trump presidential campaign to influence voter behavior.

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In this April 2013 photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg walks at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Facebook is reeling after allegations a political consulting firm working for the Trump campaign got data inappropriately from millions of Facebook users. [AP photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, file]

This is not a political article. I am not going to wade into the right or wrong, the candidate or conspiracy theories.

The fundamental issue is whether Facebook intentionally shared user data with Cambridge Analytica or if it was duped by Cambridge Analytica, which many believe took advantages of weaknesses in Facebook’s data privacy to assemble a remarkably detailed portrait of some 50 million Facebook users without necessarily having their permission.

How did this happen? You know those fun quizzes that pop up on Facebook and ask you to answer a bunch of questions like how many U.S. states you have visited? Those are driven by apps developed by other companies, not Facebook, but use the Facebook platform to get you to play along. When you do, you click to allow that app to access your Facebook profile. When you do, sometimes those apps are allowed to access profile data on your friends and possibly even their friends. This is how things spread like wildfire online.

While many users are angry with Facebook and deleting their accounts, that really doesn’t address the root of the issue. It may also cut off a useful communication tool that keeps people in touch across the globe. My family, which is large and dispersed around the world, relies on Facebook to stay in touch and share family stories, historical and in real-time. I don’t want to give that up. If you’re like me, here are some steps to take to secure your Facebook profile and not fall victim to questionable companies accessing your Facebook profile without your knowledge.

For this article, I’m focusing on using Facebook on a web browser on a computer, not a mobile device. The good news is Facebook announced this week it is significantly enhancing its privacy tools to allow users to take complete control of what is shared and what is not. This revamp will bring all these settings together on one screen and be seamless whether you are changing settings from a computer or mobile device. For now, you may have to hunt around some menus on mobile devices to find these settings.

Step one is to click on the down arrow next to the help icon (a question mark) and select Settings. Next, click on Apps near the bottom of the menu of options on the left side of the screen. The first section you will notice is labeled “Logged in with Facebook.” Here you will see a bunch of icons. Be sure to click Show All. You may be surprised to see how many outside apps you have allowed to connect to your Facebook account. This is where it starts. When you hover your mouse over one of the apps, you’ll have access to a pencil icon, to edit the settings for this app or a checkbox to select the app. If you are not sure what an app is there for, I recommend selecting it. Select all the apps you want to get rid of and click Remove to delete them all at once. Deleted apps will no longer have access to your Facebook profile. If you decide to click on the pencil to edit the apps permissions, you can select what parts of your Facebook profile you want the app to have access to. Finally, if you see Only Me, Friends or Public, that tells you who else on Facebook is able to see that you use that app. Only Me is your safest setting.

The next sections are more broad in nature, but critically important to taking control of your profile. I recommend you click Edit on each section and read the descriptions, so you can make appropriate decisions about whether to allow some of these settings to be on or turned off. Turning a setting off may prevent you from logging into non-Facebook services where you have used your Facebook profile as your login to that service.

Just this week, Facebook completely disabled the settings known as Apps Other Use. This was one of the primary vehicles used by Cambridge Analytica to get at so much data. This former feature allowed an app that a Facebook friend of yours used to access your profile and harvest that data, even though you may have never used that app. This is really what has people and regulators up in arms and Facebook has acknowledged the fundamental flaw in allowing this in the first place.

Facebook is making daily changes to respond to the outcry and reassure users privacy is important to the company. Whether it succeeds in regaining trust will take time to assess. For now, taking these simple steps to further secure your Facebook profile from prying eyes is the right thing to do. Don’t just do this once and forget about it. Keep watch for more developments on this and more ways to secure yourself online as the dust settles from this latest breach of public trust.

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