How to Stop Facebook From Sharing Your Data

Staff Writer

What kind of information are you giving to Facebook, and whom is it being shared with?

Credit: Ink Drop / ShutterstockCredit: Ink Drop / ShutterstockThese are the questions at hand after revelations that the data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica (which worked with Donald Trump's presidential election team) harvested data from millions of unwitting Facebook users to create targeted ads.

The information was handed over to the firm in 2014 through a survey app called "ThisIsYourDigitalLife" that users connected to their Facebook accounts. Signing up for the app involved granting access to your profile and those of your friends.

MORE: Everything You Need to Know About Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the Trump Campaign

The social network is facing tough questions from lawmakers now about how it could let this happen. In the meantime, there are several steps you can take to protect your privacy on Facebook, short of deleting your account.  

Check the apps you've connected to

First off, open this page to see the list of apps you've connected to your Facebook account. Each can pull some amount of information, and if there's one whose trustworthiness you're not sure about, consider revoking it immediately.

1. Hover over an app to see the edit and delete tools.

2. Clicking the pencil icon for Edit will let you see what the app can see.

3. Clicking the X will allow you to hit Remove to disconnect the app from your account.

Use Incognito and Private Browsing Mode

Another tip is to send less trackable information to Facebook by only accessing the site via Chrome's Incognito mode and similar private-browsing modes.

On Chrome on a PC, it's as easy as hitting Shift+Ctrl+N (Shift+Command+N on a Mac). In Firefox (the preferred browser for many privacy-focused folks), you'll hit Shift+Ctrl+P (Shift+Command+P on a Mac). In Safari for the Mac, you'll hit Command+Shift+N.

Facebook recently added a new extension called the Facebook Container Extension that will automatically open Facebook in a private browsing window. If you're in Facebook and click on a non-Facebook link, the link will open in a regular tab.

Log out of Facebook when you're not using it

If you stay logged into Facebook on your desktop browser, Facebook can track your movements across the web even if you're not actively using Facebook. It may share information about your online activities with advertisers and other third parties.

Use a tracker blocker

Alternatively, if you want to stay logged in — repeatedly remembering a complex password and/or using Facebook's two-factor authentication sign-in process can be timely — there's another way to dodge Facebook's tracking arms.

Tracker blockers, such as Disconnect and Privacy Badger, throw digital wrenches into the systems created to track our online behavior. Just note that these services won't protect your from Facebook's spying eyes as much as signing out of the service when you're not using it.

Opt out of Facebook Platform API sharing

If you need Facebook for keeping up with friends and family, and not signing into other apps and services, consider this option, which makes it impossible for those programs to connect to your account. To start, open this page and click Edit under Apps, Websites and Plugins.

Then, click Disable Platform. Now, you'll be signed out of all websites, apps and services that connected to your Facebook account. Note that this doesn't delete your data from those services, so you'll need to reach out to them manually.

Delete Facebook-owned apps from your smartphone

Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp should be removed from your smartphone because of how much access they have to your contacts, location, personal data and phone features. Don't believe us? Go to the Google Play app store page for Facebook and click on "View details" under Permissions at the bottom of the page. You'll see that the Facebook app can do almost everything you can do.

You can still access all these services, minus WhatsApp, from your phone's web browser, though it can be frustrating to make Messenger work without the app. (On iOS, repeated uses of the Request Desktop Mode tool in the Share Sheet works.)

Tell Facebook to Stop Looking For Your Face in Photos

Want more evidence that Facebook's creepy? Unless you disable this one setting, the social network is hunting for your face in photos you're not tagged in. To disable this feature open this page and make sure it's set to No.

Think twice about free services and surveys

Sure, social networks provide ways to connect with others, and fun surveys where you answer a series of questions can be a neat way to kill time, but you're typically always giving something over in the process.

Try measuring the risk versus the reward of the situation, because information-gobbling apps like "ThisIsYourDigitalLife" got us into this mess, and this is probably just the beginning of them.