Why do apps and Facebook collect my data?

In its Data Policy, Facebook says it collects information on how you use its services. This could be the type of content you view and engage with, the devices you use, your language and time zone, and when you visit third-party websites which use Facebook services (even when just hitting the 'like' button). But there are many more examples.

It says it uses this to enhance and improve its services, communicate with you, show you relevant ads and promote safety.

Facebook says it shares your information with third-party partners which helps them ‘improve’ their services or use advertising-related products.

Most companies use to this information responsibly to identify people who will find their advertising relevant to their interests.

But the revelation that some 50 million people’s data was harvested and used to create psychological profiles to influence politics has raised concerns about how our personal information is used.

You can check whether your Facebook data was compromised in the Cambridge Analytica breach via the This Is Your Digital Life on the social network.

You can read Facebook’s full Data Policy on its website.

We've listed five steps you can take to better manage and control how your data is used on Facebook. 

1 Stop sharing data with apps and third parties

You can control what data you share before signing up with apps or third parties by choosing ‘review the info you provide’ and selecting what information you’re comfortable with sharing, eg your birthday or friend list.

By signing up to an app or game using your Facebook account, you can give it permission to share your activity and/or personal information.

For apps or games you’ve already signed up for, you can do this afterwards in your privacy settings page.

You can manage which apps you’ve given access to on the app settings page on Facebook.

Here you’ll find a list of apps which you’ve logged into via Facebook when you select an app icon you can:

  • view what information the app has on you, for example friend list and timeline posts
  • turn off notifications from the app
  • remove the app’s access.

You’ll also find a directory of how to:

  • choose the information that the app can use
  • learn how apps use your information
  • delete information which the app has collected on you. This is quite tricky, though, as you have to open the app or game, click ‘report/contact’ in the bottom-right corner to request this from the developer.

You can completely block other platforms (such as Instagram, or Twitter) from accessing your Facebook data; select ‘edit’ under ‘Apps, Websites and Plugins’ and choose ‘Disable Platform’.

Your data protection rights

The Data Protection Act gives you the right to know what information companies hold on you and how they can use it. It also sets out rules about the way companies handle your personal data.

Under GDPR which comes into force in May 2018, you may be able to force social media companies and online traders to delete the data it holds on you with the ‘right to be forgotten’.

2 Stop sharing data with your friends' apps

If completely blocking your data to all other platforms is too much, you can limit the access your friends’ apps have.

In the same app section, go to the ‘Apps Others Use’.

Here you can also edit what information goes to the apps your friends have installed- such as whether you’re online, your posts, and your religious and political views.

3 Stop seeing certain types of adverts

You can also see which advertisers you’ve interacted with and hide advertisements from companies by going to your ad preferences.

There you can manage whether you’re shown advertising based on details such as your age, relationship status and employer.

You can also manage what categories of ads you're targeted with because of the information you’ve given to Facebook and how you use the network

You also might want to use an ad-blocker to limit advertising.

4 Find your Facebook history

You can go through the activity log of everything you’ve publicly liked, commented on, shared, updated your status with, friend you’ve added or photo you’ve been tagged in.

You can view this by finding your 'Activity Log’ on the top Facebook toolbar.

Here you can download a copy of what you’ve shared on Facebook, including photos, posts, private messages and information in your ‘about’ section, and make an archive.

But, be sure to keep this somewhere secure in case your computer, hard drive or cloud storage gets hacked. In most cases, it's best to leave it where it is.

5 Delete your Facebook account

This step will not be for everyone, as many of us rely on Facebook to stay in touch with friends and family. 

If you do decide to quit Facebook, but think you might want to return in the future, you can opt to ‘deactivate’ your profile.

You can do this under settings and the last option is to ‘Deactivate Your Account’.

It will then ask you to put in your password before taking you to a page which says all your friends will ‘no longer be able to keep in touch with you’ and show you the profile pictures of a random selection of friends who ‘will miss you’.

After telling Facebook why you’re leaving, you can then deactivate your account.

Permanently deleting your account is much trickier.

To do this, you need to go to a help page and select the ‘let us know’ hyperlink in the text which will then lead you to the page where you can permanently delete your account.

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