Facebook knows quite a lot about you. But what does it know exactly? The results might scare some, but by learning what kind of private information Facebook accumulates, you can then make a proper decision. You can either leave it as it is, delete Facebook data without deleting the account, or delete all Facebook data.
Not long ago, Zuckerberg found himself on a hot seat after the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke out. It was revealed that 50 million Facebook users had their data taken and used to build profiles for personalized ads that were aimed at our “inner demons.”
In the aftermath, Zuckerberg banned Cambridge Analytica from accessing Facebook and announced his plans to scrutinize the company to confirm whether the alleged accusation was true. Several investigations have been launched over this Facebook tracking scandal in both the US and the UK. Finally, in July 2019, the Federal Trade Commission settled the US investigation by fining Facebook $5 billion.
Zuckerberg answered by establishing a new industry-academic partnership named Social Science One. Why? Because Facebook knows a scary amount of stuff about you, which is invaluable.
The whole idea is hinged on tracing your footsteps on Facebook, alongside what you do on the internet through social media and third-party websites. When all this data is collected and analyzed, it becomes a tool of significant power that can alter even the elections, such as the 2020 US Presidential.
What data does Facebook collect about you?
To learn what data does Facebook collect about you, go to ‘Download Your Information’ page:
To do so on your mobile device:
- Go to the Facebook app
- On the bottom right click on the so-called ‘Hamburger button’
- Scroll down to ‘Settings & Privacy’ and click to expand
- Click ‘Settings’
- Scroll down to ‘Download Your Information’
You can download all your information at once or select only some parts or particular date ranges. When you’re ready, click ‘Create file.’ It takes some time to compile all that data, but it should be ready in less than half an hour, depending on how much information you shared over the years. You’ll get a notification redirecting you to a page where you will download the data after you re-enter your account password.
It’s more convenient to download your Facebook data on desktop as the .zip file size can reach a few GBs. You’ll need to extract it and click on the “index.html” to view everything Facebook knows about you. There you’ll find the “About Me” data you actually put in when creating the account. Information such as work, education, hometown, gender, and birthday is not left out either.
When it comes to the ‘Security and Login Information,’ the category warns that Facebook has been tracking the date, time, IP address, browser, and device from every time you’ve logged on and, of course, logged off. One of the more “innocent” ways to use such data would be learning how much time people spend on the platform.
It only gets more interesting from here. The “Friends” section stores not only every friend you’ve ever accepted but also everyone you’ve ever declined and deleted, including your exes. Think that’s crazy? There’s more. Category “Your address book” contains all your friends’ phone numbers! “Messages” folder, of course, has all your personal chats – even those old heart-breaking conversations you purposely deleted three years ago to protect your future self!
How to stop Facebook from collecting your data?
In this section, you will learn how to change privacy settings on Facebook and stop it from collecting data on you. As always, tweaking something that’s vital for the interests of this social network involves more than just a few clicks. Here are the step-by-step guides on changing your Facebook privacy settings for the better.
1. Audit your Facebook apps and games
Chances are you have some apps and games installed that you no longer use but they still collect information about you. Unsurprisingly, some of those apps and games belong to Facebook. Therefore, you should delete those that you don’t use and revoke permissions for the rest.
First, go to Settings by clicking the drop-down menu at the top-right corner. Then, choose Apps and websites from the left menu. Tick Active or Expired apps that you want to get rid of and click Remove.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to delete your data that Expired and Removed apps collected before. You should contact each of them separately or check their privacy policies.
To limit the data that Active apps can collect about you, click the View and edit link.
Most apps will require some info to work, but there will always be something like email address, page likes, or a friends list that you can keep for yourself.
2. Manage off-Facebook activity
It’s not only Facebook that collects data about you. Other services also send information to Facebook that reacts by tailoring personalized ads you see later.
To manage your off-Facebook activity, go to Settings > Your Facebook Information > Off-Facebook activity. Here you’ll be able to turn it off for all or specific apps, download all the details, and stop saving activity in the future.
Even if you turn it off completely, Facebook will still receive information from other websites and apps. The only difference is that it will no longer be connected with your Facebook account.
3. Turn off Face recognition
While using biometric data, such as face recognition, is recommended when we’re talking about two-factor authentication, giving away your face to Facebook is not.
To turn it off, go to Settings, then Face recognition and click Edit.
After this, you’ll stop receiving notifications about posted photos that include your face. Yes, there’s always a price to pay.
4. Turn off Location Services
You need to turn off Location Services on your phone so that Facebook no longer knows where you are. The instructions for Android and iOS differ a little.
For the Android, go to Settings > Apps & notifications > Facebook > Permissions > Location.
For iPhone, go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Facebook.
You might feel tempted choose “Allow while using the app” but “Deny” is the right choice.
5. Disable photo tagging
Contrary to your Facebook friend, you might not want him to tag you in a photo of last night’s spontaneous strip dance-off. However, the only thing you can do is to deny the tagged photo from appearing on your timeline. You can also prevent others from tagging people in your posts.
These and other settings can be tweaked under Settings > Timeline and tagging.
6. Dodge Facebook pixels
Facebook keeps a tab on you even when you’re not using it. In fact, you don’t even need an account to get under the radar. Plenty of websites have the so-called Facebook pixel, a tracking cookie for your browser. It’s basically used for targeting ads and collecting data about human behavior.
Unless you want to delete cookies after each session, the best way to stop Facebook tracking is to use a reliable ad-blocker tool. Additionally, you may want to op-out of personalized ads by visiting Settings > Ads > Ad settings and choosing as many no’s as possible.
What does Facebook do with your data?
Facebook claims that it doesn’t directly sell your data, but merely allows advertisers to target ads based on conclusions that Facebook had drawn from the information about you. What it means is that a political campaign manager who wants to reach a liberal voter by Facebook ads simply describes the target audience as people who like MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, or Sen.
You can actually see what labels Facebook puts on you for advertisers. Go to ‘Your information’ and then to ‘Your categories,’ you will see categories Facebook added you to based on the information you’ve “provided on Facebook and other activity.”
The screenshot below shows that I’ve been added to ‘Recent mobile network or device change’ and ‘Potential mobile network or device change’ categories, which, to my surprise, is very accurate as recently I’ve indeed changed my iPhone, but I don’t recall providing Facebook with this info.
The reason why the Cambridge Analytica scandal is even more massive than the jungle is that the company collected insights from Facebook users and gave them to Ted Cruz’s and Donald Trump’s campaigners. According to the Trump team’s digital media director, Brad Percale, Cambridge Analytica helped to create an online media persuasion tool by showing which Facebook users were the most easily persuaded and what those users cared about.
While it wouldn’t be so bad if Facebook knew only the info which you voluntarily shared, this company strives to find out as much as it can. That’s why Facebook created a tool called Facebook Pixel – a code that some companies put on their websites to tell Facebook what you do there when you visit. This allows Facebook to gain insights on your personality and behavior even when you’re not on their platform.
How to delete all Facebook data?
Considering the amount of information that is being collected and stored, you might want to delete everything that Facebook knows about you. But that’s easier said than done. For some reason, you can’t erase posts, tags, photos, and other information in bulk. This means that if you’re really into covering your tracks, you’ll have to do it piece by piece!
Deleting your posts on Facebook
To manually delete posts, go to ‘Activity Log’ to see your posting history. Find posts you want to delete, then click the pencil on desktop or tap an arrow on mobile to delete them.
Manually deleting 20,000 posts is pretty damn tiring, so we found a Chrome extension that came to the rescue. Social Book Post Manager makes it much easier to bulk delete or unlike your Facebook posts by automating the process. Run it by year and month, or simply “select all” to delete everything. You might have to run the extension over and over a few times to make sure it deletes every post.
Deleting photos on Facebook
If your photos on Facebook are organized into albums – consider yourself lucky! Deleting photo albums is much easier because you can erase an entire album with just a few clicks, whereas standalone photos have to be removed like the sea urchin spikes from your foot – one at a time.
To delete a Facebook photo album:
- On your Photos page and click on ‘Albums’
- Go to the album you want to delete
- Click the gear icon on the top right and select ‘Delete Album’
To delete individual Facebook photos:
- Go to your Photos page and click on ‘Your Photos’
- Click the photo to open it
- Click ‘Options’ on the menu bar below the photo
- Select ‘Delete This Photo’ and click delete
- Rinse and repeat
To untag yourself from Facebook photos:
After a few hours of deleting your own photos, you may realize that you’re far from done because there still are photos that someone else has posted and tagged you. Luckily, you will be able to choose not one, but ten (!) photos at a time. Thank you, Zuckerberg!
- Go to your ‘Activity log’
- Click ‘Photos and Videos’ on the left sidebar
- Choose ‘Photos You’re Tagged In’
- Check the box to the left of the posts you’d like to remove a tag from
- Click ‘Report/Remove Tags’ at the top of the page
- Click ‘Untag Photos to confirm’
Remember that removing tags from photos does not delete them, so technically, you are still in the photo that’s on Facebook. If you want to remove these photos completely, the only way is to ask the owner to take them down.
Deleting your Facebook history
Deleting your Facebook search history is easy on both desktop and mobile.
To delete on Android or iOS:
- Tap the search icon at the top-right
- Choose ‘Edit’ next to ‘Recent Searches’
- Tap ‘Clear searches’ or go one-by-one
To delete on Windows and macOS:
- Go to your ‘Profile’ page
- Click the ‘Activity log’ button on your cover photo
- Choose ‘MORE’ under the ‘Comments’ from the left menu
- Find ‘Search history’ in the extended menu
- Click ‘Clear Searches’ at the top-right or go one-by-one
As you can see, Facebook collects many pieces of your personal data in many ways. While you can opt-out from most of these practices, it usually comes at the price of convenience.
For some, the best way of getting everything removed is deactivating or deleting your Facebook account. However, the last option might come with consequences you did not expect. Most users tend to forget that they use Facebook account to login to other apps, for example, Tinder and Airbnb.
To sum up, only deleting your Facebook data or Facebook smartphone app (not possible if you’re a Samsung Galaxy owner) will keep your original Facebook account mostly intact in case you want to use it for other purposes. As a bonus, it might also give you a strange comfort knowing that in the end, Facebook doesn’t know everything about you.