Like they've done so many times in the past, Facebook recently made changes to the way its advertising settings work. And when they added these new privacy settings, they set the default to opt-in. That means, if you don't want Facebook to collect and use your info for ads outside of their platforms, you need to change your settings now.
Luckily this guide will walk you through how to do that, as well as give you a refresher course on the other ways in which Facebook is tracking you so you can limit how much information you freely give away.
First of all, it should come as no surprise that Facebook uses every opportunity it gets to build a picture of who you are - because while Facebook may not make a lot of money from you directly, indirectly, that information is incredibly valuable.
Let's start by giving you an idea of what Facebook thinks you're interested in by looking at your ad preferences here. Yikes. If you're like me, Facebook has hundreds of topics selected for you based on your search history. You can help Facebook by clicking on any x button to remove a topic or use the box at the top to add one if you'd like, but I'm really here to talk about how to restrict Facebook from getting this information in the first place.
How does Facebook know all this about you? Well, start thinking about all of those "Like" and "Facebook login" buttons you come across during your week and you'll begin to understand how this can become a problem over time.
So how do we stop this from happening? Click here and you'll see your Facebook ad settings and how your Facebook ID is used in ads that other people see. Here is what it should look like.
Or this screenshot, where hypothetically, my friends would be seeing an ad for Jasper's Market that it appears I have endorsed (the ad would be triggered by the fact that I hypothetically liked the company in the past).
While you are certainly free to allow Facebook to continue to track you, I'd recommend that you change each of these options to 'no'. Ignore the Digital Advertising Alliance link for now; we'll cover that shortly.
Next, let's take a deep dive into which company apps are tracking you on Facebook by clicking here.
Oh my. What you're seeing is only the first bunch of apps, as I've apparently allowed 48 apps access to my Facebook account. Be sure to click on the "show all" button to see your full list. If you're like me, you probably don't remember 90% of when you casually clicked "yes" to allowing them access to your personal information.
Move your mouse over one of the apps and you will see that you have two options: You can edit the app's permissions or delete it completely so it can no longer access your Facebook account.
Just to give you an example of the kind of information these apps are collecting, I clicked on the settings button for AirBNB.
Just this one app had access to my public profile, friend list, email address, birthday, education history, hometown, interests, current city, personal description, and likes.
Review each app to edit its permissions or delete its access to you on Facebook entirely (it's a bit time-consuming, but otherwise you're just giving these people free data).
Now that we've cleared those up, I'm beginning to feel a bit better about my profile, however, we've still got a ways to go. Next we're going to look at the information that your friends are bringing with them wherever they go. Stay on that page and scroll down to these three options.
Click on "Apps Others Use", and brace yourself.
Yes, all of the information that is checked is available to your friends, and through them, the apps they use. Remember the 48 apps above that had access to information? Well all of your friends are probably just as guilty as you, meaning the number of apps with your information isn't just 48, but probably more like hundreds and thousands.
Luckily you're reading this article and now all you have to do is uncheck those boxes to keep that information private.
Facebook also tracks, and records, what you search for, what profiles you view, and where you go (both in real life and on Facebook). Well, that's not information I want Facebook storing and analyzing, and if you feel the same, here's how you too can clear your Facebook search history.
To make your search history look like mine above, go to your Timeline and click on 'Activity Log'. Next, click on the 'More' link in the left column. Now scroll down and click on 'Search' and then select the 'Clear Searches' button. Poof, that information is gone.
The location information I mentioned earlier though, requires you to access Facebook via your mobile device. In 2014, when Facebook announced their Nearby Friends feature, many didn't read the description: "When Location History is on, Facebook builds a history of your precise location, even when you're not using the app." If you don't want your mobile phone to tell Facebook where you are all the time, there's a simple solution.
From your Facebook app, choose the "More" button and click on "Nearby Friends". From there, tap the small "gear" icon and choose "Location Settings". Switch the location history feature to off.
Next, to delete any past locations you've visited from your history. This can be done from your desktop computer by selecting "Activity Log". Click on the "more" button again and scroll down to "Location History". Now just tap "Clear Location History" at the top of the page and that information is also gone.
Now, back to the Digital Advertising Alliance site link we skipped over earlier. The Digital Advertising Alliance's (DAA) page for the Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising states that:
"Some of the ads you receive on Web pages are customized based on predictions about your interests generated from your visits over time and across different Web sites. This type of ad customization - sometimes called "online behavioral" or "interest-based" advertising - is enabled through your computer browser and browser cookies."
This is similar to the way Facebook provides you with customized ads for the trade-off of giving them access to a great deal of personal information about you, your search habits, shopping history, and generally where you've been on the Internet. To prevent Facebook (and other companies) from getting this very personal information about your online activity, all you have to do is opt out of tracking cookies on the DAA's site. Once you've submitted your request, the DAA will send it to the companies listed on its site. This process will have to be repeated for each browser that you use.
So there you go, you're now much more anonymous online than you were 10 minutes ago. Even though there's no real way to use Facebook (and the internet in general) without them building up an advertising makeup of you, you can at least take some control over the process.