Belfast Telegraph

Facebook: How to protect your data and stop third parties accessing it

By Conor Shanley

With the alleged misuse of data from 50 million Facebook accounts dominating the headlines, now might be the time to check what information you’re unwittingly sharing with third parties.

First of all, if you’ve been a Facebook user for years then chances are you have, at some point, used a third party app to play a game, take a quiz or respond to a survey of some kind.

When you accept and give that app permission, you can then take part in the game/quiz or whatever it is. Whilst this may seem innocuous, in the background you just granted that a third party access to personal information which it could then gather en-masse, record and store.

This was allowed under Facebook’s rules and companies that collected data agreed to use that data responsibly and in accordance with the social network’s terms and conditions.

However, once that data is handed over, only the third party is in direct control of what happens to it and what it is used for. Facebook has now restricted the amount of data an app can harvest but in the past those third parties could collect a lot more, including data about a Facebook users’ friends.

Regardless, there’s a reasonable chance that there are apps you’ve used on Facebook, granted permission to and never gone near again but their permission still stands.

So, how do I protect my Facebook data?

Well, there’s always the nuclear option if you want to be 100% secure, delete your Facebook account. However, joining the #DeleteFacebook club isn’t going to be an option for everyone so what else can you do?

You can stop third party apps accessing your data entirely:

  • Log in to Facebook and navigate to the settings page.
  • Click apps on the left column.
  • Under apps, websites and plug-ins click edit.
  • Click disable platform.

This will mean that you can no longer use third party apps inside Facebook. On the plus side, it will mean your data cannot be harvested by those apps. If you still yearn to play that game or quiz, consider noting the company offering it and go directly to their site rather than granting them access to your Facebook data.

If that seems a bit too extreme, then you can leave third-party app platform turned on but consider limiting the information that each app has access to.

If you go to your apps setting page you will see any third parties that have access to your data. If you click on the app and choose edit Settings, you can amend the amount of data they have access to.

Consider turning off access to personal information one by one on the data that you don’t want them harvesting. Ask yourself, is there any practical reason why this particular app would need this information? If not, turn it off.

Facebook is founded on big data and the company could not operate without it. Your data will always be used to allow targeted advertising to run on the platform.

Facebook’s value is built in the granular level of targeting they can offer to advertisers, making your information essential in driving their bottom line. This is the trade off you make for having a free service that can host years of your pictures, videos and updates and connect you to people.

For most, that’s a trade well worth making. Though it is worth remembering that when it comes to Facebook, you are the product. Every interaction you have on the platform is recorded and logged, including sensitive information you might have shared on Facebook’s products such as Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp.

As such, that’s a big slice of your personal privacy being handed over to one company. Once you give it up, it’s gone.

If you trust Facebook, and with over 2billion users there is clearly no shortage of people who do, then it’s business as usual and the current headlines will fade into the news cycle over time. Though, I would hope that with recent headlines highlighting the importance of the data we share and how that can be used to influence the public at large, many are now at least becoming aware of the scale of the data they’re sharing and the implications that can have.

Whilst big data is an integral part of the internet economy and you can only control so much, consider taking action where you can.

You don’t have to give third parties access to your very personal Facebook information, so why would you?

Conor Shanley is a Belfast-based technology writer. He writes at conorshanley.com

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