Facebook has messed up big this time. A data firm, Cambridge Analytica, technically lied to Mark Zuckerberg about wiping off the user data it accessed to allegedly create a tool to help predict voter preference ahead of the US Presidential Elections last year. This resulted in a chain reaction where each of Facebook’s features (or the lack of it) became an object of dissection by lawmakers, users, privacy advocates worldwide. The #DeleteFacebook movement is also kicking pace with celebrities and influencers actually deleting their Facebook accounts to stand against violation of user privacy.
Amidst all this, users like you and I, who are bound to the medium for professional reasons in my case and out of social media addiction perhaps in your case, are still swinging between the pro-Facebook and anti-Facebook groups. Yes, we admit Facebook has wrongfully accessed our data, including some of the more private of details, we are aware the potential implications a single compromise of this data can have, yet, we can’t help use the medium.
You don’t want to quit Facebook, and you don’t want it to poke its nose in your business. So how can you tame the necessary evil in your digital existence? The problem with us is that we over-share on the internet and we care less about what we share. We suggest you go through a guide on why it is important to protect your own data on the internet. As for Facebook, here are a few steps you can take to prevent the medium from tracking you beyond your knowledge or comfort zone.
Check privacy settings
This is the simplest and the most basic thing to do to prevent yourself from surveillance. Facebook has had these tools for a very long time, it is just that the timing is bad and Zuckerberg is compelled to rehash them and present them to you packaged as a separate segment.
The new changes make it easier for you to search for privacy settings, especially on the mobile platform. Simply head to your account settings > privacy and tweak all that you feel necessary. Facebook is also launching a new ‘Access Your Information’ section where you can further fix all that is wrong with your information being shared. You can manage all that you want or don’t want on Facebook.
It is important to note that the apps, services, pages, you Like/Subscribe/Follow all require data permissions from your end. It is the very core of how Facebook functions and how ads are served to you. The critical bit here is to learn about the ‘ad preferences’; it is the easy-to-miss phrase written below all the ads you see on the right panel when you open Facebook. Click on it and you will know what all data is accessed and in what fashion by businesses operating out of Facebook. You can then change permissions to control what goes out. Tweaking the settings periodically to eliminate those apps you no longer use or restrict information access to such services is a wise practice. Consider it as a detox for your digital self; needed once a while.
Install browser extensions
Similar to how ad blocker is capable of giving you a distraction-free browser experience, extensions to stop data collection also work the same way. In light of the mega breach of trust, Mozilla launched its ‘Facebook Container’ tool. The software prevents Facebook from tracking your visits to other websites by deleting your Facebook cookies and logging you out of Facebook. Once you install the extension, if you navigate to Facebook, it will load in a special blue browser tab.
However, there are a few loopholes of the tool. It only stops tracking from outside Facebook, so if you are on the site, it can track your behavior as usual. The tool is also unable to prevent Facebook from mishandling tracking data that it’s already obtained.
You can also consider other extensions which block tracking of data, encrypt website connections, or stop dubious ads from running at all. Tools such as Privacy Badger automatically detects and prevents non-consensual tracking by keeping track of what data the tracker is collecting. In Facebook’s case, it will theoretically track and block specific cookies which are being used to track you across the web. So the next time you check out holiday destination on Google search, you probably won’t come across an ad about the same on Facebook. Other tools include HTTPS everywhere – which makes the communication between you, Facebook, and Facebook’s own trackers safe from other eavesdroppers.
Having a dedicated secure browser, such as the Tor browser is also helpful. The browser essentially hides the characteristics of your browser that identify you, such as the IP address and your browser fingerprint. While the browser allows you to be anonymous on the internet, its very usage is revealed in metadata of communications and browsing.
Limit what you share
Lastly, the way to prevent Facebook, Google, or any big or small service from tracking you is to basically limit the use. If there’s a lot of data out there in the open for anyone to access, chances are the Facebook scandal has already made you lose your sleep.
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While we are obsessed with putting every bit of our daily lives on the internet with the relevant hashtags, somewhere there’s a lot of risk involved in losing that data or getting it compromised at the hands of hackers. If you have been one of those sharing a hell lot of information on the public platform, now might be the time to reduce that. While we do not necessarily want you to #DeleteFacebook, because like you, we also consider it as a free cloud service to dump all of our favorite photos and moments, and calling it quits in a day is a major decision, the idea is to be the protector of your own data. If you share too much, you risk too much.
And for us, Indians, the risk is increasing on a per-day basis as Aadhaar linking is done to our bank accounts where we most likely are still using the same email address we used to sign up for Facebook, Tinder, Amazon, and also to those third-party apps or games we have even forgotten about. The time is now to start segregating your information from the prying eyes before another 50 million internet users feel cheated.