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We all know that Facebook guzzles as much of your information as it can. But how can you get control of your privacy again?
Yes, you could just quit Facebook – but even then, they can track you. If you think getting rid of your profile is still the way to go, make sure you fully delete it, and not just deactivate it for a while.
Okay, so how can you tackle seemingly-endless invasions of privacy, not just from Facebook itself but also your friends and, yes, even complete strangers? Here are just a few simple things you can do in an hour or so.
Log Out Remotely
Most of us have done it: signed into your account when not in your homestead, and then forgotten about it. Maybe you were on a friend’s computer, or had a quick check for notifications at lunch. It’s pretty likely you’ve got the app on your smartphone too.
Facebook knows where you’re signed in and what device you’re using. Worse than that, someone else could be snooping if you’ve left your account unattended. Fortunately, it’s easy to manage where you’re signed in. Open Settings > Security > Where You’re Logged In. One you don’t recognise? Simply click End Activity and it’ll log you off that device.
Your status posts are searchable, so if you add an employer (or even employee) to your page, they might be able to see the embarrassing things you got up to in college. Nonetheless, you might not want to flat-out delete that status.
Facebook’s got you covered.
You could manually go through each post, click on that down arrow to the side of the timestamp, and change who sees each post: Friends, yes; Public, probably not; or even Only You. Further groups can be selected by clicking on Custom. It’s a lovely trip down memory lane, but if you want to see all you’ve been up to, click on that downwards arrow at the top right again and then on Activity Log.
This gets pretty freaky. Everything you’ve ever liked or written on Facebook is here. Some stuff you can do very little about (though you can unlike things if you really want to), but otherwise, you can limit statuses and links you’ve shared, once again to key groups of ‘friends’.
Alternatively, you can refine past posts just to friends by clicking on that same downwards arrow. Go to Settings > Privacy > Limit the audience for posts you’ve shared with friends of friends or Public?
You’ll get a warning message about it being irreversible en masse, but you can at least manually go through every post and change it back if you come to regret it. I don’t see why you would, though.
Check Tagged Photos and Facial Recognition
It’s hard to be respected when your friend has tagged you in photos where you’re drunk or asleep at a desk. Or both. On that same Activity Log, you can use Filters to refine your search just to Photos and even Photos of You. Click on the pen icon beside each image to change its status to Hidden from Timeline – or even Report/Remove Tag.
But Facebook also knows what you look like; that is, if you’re tagged in enough photos. This makes it easier for Facebook to suggest tagging you in their own images. DeepFace, their facial recognition project, can identify you, regardless of lighting and angle, with up to 97% accuracy. You can adjust these settings, and of course review those tags (you should automatically get an email when you’re tagged in someone else’s album anyway) with Settings > Timeline and Tagging > Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded?
If you’re lucky, this option won’t be available to you because DeepFace is reportedly only being used in the US.
Check Your Apps
We let services – apps and websites – scour our social media accounts, and post to our walls. Many of these you trust. Some of these you’ll have completely forgotten about. Friends can see what you use, and apps can also extract personal information about you, ie. name, age, occupation.
You can alter app visibility just like posts in your Activity Log, or even remove app permissions completely. You’ll find them listed in Settings > Apps.
I used Digital Shadow a few months ago to discover how much Facebook actually knows about me. That’s still there. I played Marvel: Avengers Alliance once. That’s there too. And crikey, I’d forgotten all about Draw Something!
Hover over the app and click the x to remove it completely.
Otherwise, assess which apps on your phone actually need access to your account. Why do they need it? It’s easy to switch off too; on an iPhone, for example, go to Settings > Privacy > Facebook – any apps requesting your login information are stored there.
Search Engine Links
If you don’t want Google, DuckDuckGo, Bing et al. linking to your timeline (and yes, they really do that – meaning anyone who knows your name and location can basically see what you ‘like’), you need to tamper with your Privacy settings. Once again, go to that downwards arrow:
Settings > Privacy > Who can look me up? > Do you want other search engines to link to your Timeline?
And then untick that box. As Facebook warns, it might take a little time for search engines to drop those links.
Another way to limit your visibility is to slightly alter your name: add in a special character or drop the latter part of your surname. This makes it harder for friends to find you. It also makes it harder for strangers to find you.
Consider Other Encrypted Messages
new daily record: 20B messages sent (inbound) and 44B messages received (outbound) by our users = 64B messages handled in just 24 hours.
— WhatsApp Inc. (@WhatsApp) April 2, 2014
Facebook’s private chats are great and everything, but they’re not actually private.
They can intercept information from messenger; mainly metadata which can reveal when you’re online, what device you’re using, and location.
But don’t panic: we have alternatives. Plenty of services offer encrypted messages (though the NSA want front-door access, so they might not be private for that long), including of course iMessages. WhatsApp is obviously hugely popular, but after Facebook’s acquisition, questions have arisen over its privacy.
This might sound harsh, but don’t be in a relationship – even jokingly. I don’t mean for you to abandon your loved ones or anything mental like that: just don’t tag them as any significant others.
Why? Because then their friends can see you. Oh, this might sound very conspiratorial, but if you really want to limit your visibility, just take a look at how Immersion picks apart who you know by utilising emails. There’s loads of information contained in your email header. Then think what Facebook can do. Go to your profile and click About. You can tamper with it there.
The downside may be that people you know can’t easily find you via your spouse, but there are plenty of other ways they can search for you. And anyway, who updates their Relationship Status these days?! Just look at the negative effects it can have.
Change Your Email
Bored of all those notifications? Worried Facebook knows a private email address? Change your primary contact address. It’s simple, just view Settings > General.
You’ll see your primary email there, so just click on the Edit button – and remember you’ve done it next time you log in!
You could default to the address Facebook set up for you (how kind of them), or public email (a business one, for example), one which is already on the Internet so it won’t matter if the social network knows it too.
What Else Can You Do?
Yep, Facebook knows a lot about you. If your privacy settings are wrong, strangers could know a lot about you too.
Fortunately, you’re not helpless. It’s very easy to wrestle control back.
What other quick and easy tips do you have to gain back your privacy?