Facebook’s latest scandal has caused many users to question whether they should pull the plug and delete their account in order to protect their private data.
But this may not be enough to keep Facebook, its advertisers, and so-called ‘vampire apps’, from tracking you across the web.
Facebook uses pieces of code – which include tags, pixels and cookies – to collect information and build up a profile of your digital self – even if you don’t have an account.
It also allows thousands of third-party ‘vampire apps’ to plug in to its social network and siphon off data from its users.
In response, many are choosing to manually remove permissions previously granted to individual apps – a time consuming process.
However, it remains unclear whether this will allow them to claw back data already shared via third-parties.
This means third-party apps may still have enough data to build up a digital profile of you, even if you have stopped using them.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg has since admitted Facebook ‘made mistakes’ leading up to Cambridge Analytica privacy breach, which has led to accusations the firm mismanaged user data.
Facebook Audience Network
Facebook uses an advertising strategy called the ‘Facebook Audience Network’ to promote ads targeted to your browsing tastes.
It means brands can direct marketing messages to you based on your interests, even when you’re not on the site, via other company’s apps and mobile websites.
They can collect information ranging from your IP address to the websites you have visited, the length of time you spent on a website and in what sequence pages were accessed.
Facebook can use this information to track your activities across different websites, gaining insights into things like your location, age group, gender, and interests.
Facebook marketed its Audience Network as the ‘power of Facebook ads, off Facebook’ at the time of its launch in 2014.
The company is not alone in using targeted advertising and the many who do engage in it – including Google and Apple – say they do so to ensure that the commercial messages you are exposed to online are relevant to you.
By connecting your Facebook profile to third party plugin apps found on the social network, many of which are from the same firms paying for targeted advertising, you’re also typically granting them permission to access your data.
That includes your name, profile picture, cover photo, gender, networks, username and user ID.
Some fear this may also include details like your IP address and other identifying information which can be used to track your online activities.
Facebook has since amended a policy which allowed third-party apps to access your friends’ data as well.
Some of the better known apps that may be connected to your profile include those of popular sites like Amazon, Buzzfeed, Expedia, Etsy, and Tinder.
How you can stop Facebook tracking you online
Part of what makes Facebook and Google so valuable is that they oversee vast treasure troves of user data, which can be of huge benefit to brands.
For advertisers, it means they’re more likely to get a higher click-through rate on their advertisements, boosting the effectiveness of their campaigns.
For users, it means forfeiting personal information to a variety of unknown sources.
Thankfully, there are a number of steps that can be taken to prevent Facebook’s ad partners from following you as you browse the internet on your phone or desktop computer.
This can be achieved through software settings on your device, or by contacting a number of non-governmental organisations who enforce responsible privacy practices.
When it comes to vampire apps, removing permissions is the most effective route of ensuring they are no longer able to gather information, although this is time consuming.
If you have left Facebook, there are still options for finding out what data, if any, third parties still hold on you and to request that they delete it.
This may also be time consuming, as you will need to contact these third parties
Changing your settings on your smartphone or tablet
If you own an iPhone or iPad, the steps to block targeted adverts are relatively simple.
Go to Settings, tap Privacy and then scroll down to click on Advertising.
From there, swipe the ‘Limit Ad Tracking’ button.
If you choose to leave the ‘Limit Ad Tracking’ feature off, that means that advertisers can track your browsing behaviour by assigning your device a unique ID number, or a Identifier For Advertising.
When you the option on, your device will be represented as ‘00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000.’
In turn, it will be harder for ad technology companies to track your browsing behaviour.
If you own an Android phone or tablet, the process is very similar.
Open up Settings, navigate to Accounts and Sync, select Google, then Ads and finally, select ‘Opt Out of Interest Based Ads.’
Changing your browser settings
If you’re browsing the internet on Google Chrome, go to ‘Settings’ in the right-hand dropdown menu.
From there, click on ‘Show advanced settings,’ then select Privacy.
Finally, click on ‘Send a do not track request with your browsing traffic.’
A popup on Chrome further explains what this means: ‘Enabling Do Not Track means that a request will be included with your browsing traffic.
‘Any effect depends on whether a website responds to the request, and how the request is interpreted.’
‘For example, some websites may respond to this request by showing you ads that aren’t based on other websites you’ve visited.’
‘Many websites will still collect and use your browsing data– for example, to improve security, to provide content, services, ads, and recommendations on their websites, and to generate reporting statistics.’
What this means is that not all websites necessarily have to honour ‘Do Not Track’ requests.
Similar options are available in other browsers, including Apple’s Safari.
To access this, pull down the Safari menu and open Preferences
Click the ‘Privacy’ tab and find the ‘Website tracking’ section. Checking the box next to ‘Ask websites not to track me’ sends out a ‘Do Not Track’ request.
Contacting your local data privacy alliance
Websites and apps that are part of a number of privacy alliances have agreed to honour requests to stop tracking.
Google, Facebook and Twitter are just a few of the major corporations that have signed onto the Digital Advertising Alliance in the US, the Digital Advertising Alliance of Canada and the European Interactive Digital Advertising Alliance.
The websites of each of these organisations contain instructions on how to add your details to their ‘do not track’ schemes.
Change your tracking settings in Facebook
Facebook has given users of its social network the option to opt out of ad tracking via the site.
First, log in to Facebook, go to Settings, then click on ‘Ads’ in the menu on the left-hand side of the screen.
Under Ad Settings, click on the button that says ‘Ads on apps and websites off of the Facebook Companies.’
Then scroll down to the bottom and select ‘No.’
Facebook says that if you select that option, it means that you’ll still see ads, but ‘they won’t be as relevant to you.’
Additionally, you may still see ads related to your age, gender or location.
Deleting your Facebook profile
Some users have decided they want to take the final plunge and shut down their Facebook profile entirely.
To do so, click on the ‘help’ button on the top right hand corner of your Facebook page. There is a search bar that says ‘How can we help?’. Type in ‘delete account’.
This will link you to Facebook’s Delete Account page, where you will need to select ‘Delete My Account’ and enter your login credentials.
‘If you do not think you will use Facebook again and would like your account deleted, we can take care of this for you’, the message reads.
‘Keep in mind that you will not be able to reactivate your account or retrieve any of the content or information you have added.’
After two weeks, Facebook will begin the process of deleting all your data from the site, which may take up to 90 days.
If you want to keep your personal data you need to download it before deleting your account.
To download your archive go to ‘Settings’ and click ‘Download a copy of your Facebook data’ at the General Account Settings tap. Then click ‘Start My Archive’.
Using data protection laws to check your data
Facebook users in Europe who want to check what data the firm, and third-party apps, have on them have the legal means to do so.
Under existing data protection laws, the Data Protection Act 1998, you have the right to know what data a company or organisation holds on you.
Most large organisation will have a privacy notice which states what it intends to do with your information and if it intends to share it. If this is unclear, you are entitled to ask for clarification.
In the case of smaller businesses or individuals, you may need to contact them directly.
You can make a ‘subject access request’ to any organisation you think may hold information about you. It is then legally required to send you the details in ‘intelligible form’, although there may be a small charge for this.
You are also within your rights to request that an organisation to stop using your details.
If they ignore your request you can take the firm to court or complain to a regulatory body. In the UK, this is the Information Commissioner’s Office.
These laws are due to be bolstered with the introduction of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, a new data protection law that will enter into force on May 25.
Rules in the US are covered by a wide array of legislation, which varies from state to state and across different industries.
The main national act that impacts Facebook’s data is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act.
The FTC has brought many enforcement actions against companies failing to comply with posted privacy policies and for the unauthorised disclosure of personal data.
The FTC’s Behavioural Advertising Principles suggest that website operators disclose their data collection practices tied to online behavioural advertising.
They also suggest that company’s disclose that consumers can opt out of these practices, providing an opt-out mechanism.
Stay updated with the latest Nigerian news from Information Nigeria