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Managing Your Privacy on Facebook

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Find out how to keep your private information from becoming public on the Facebook site.

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This chapter is from the book

Facebook is a social network, and being social means sharing one’s personal information with others. In Facebook’s case, it’s likely that you’re sharing a lot of your private information not just with your friends but also with Facebook and its partners and advertisers.

And it’s not just your contact information. Facebook is also tracking everything you do on its site—the pages you visit, the groups you join, and the posts you like. Facebook also tracks the people you friend and the people they friend. It’s a lot of information.

Fortunately, it’s possible to keep most of your personal information personal when you’re using Facebook— but it requires some work on your part.

What Facebook Tracks—and Why

All the information that you share and that Facebook collects poses a problem if you’d rather keep some things private. If you share everything with everyone, all sorts of information can get out—and be seen by people you don’t want to see it. The problem is only exacerbated if Facebook shares the information it collects, too.

Facebook has the ability to track not only the personal and contact information you enter on your profile page, but also every single thing you do on the Facebook site, which includes

  • Status updates you post

  • Other posts you like

  • Posts you share

  • Comments you make on posts

  • The amount of time you spend looking at or reading specific posts

  • Your friends (and the amount of time you spend visiting friends’ profile pages)

  • Any payments you make to purchase apps, products, or services on the Facebook site

  • Devices you use to access Facebook—computers, phones, tablets, and so on.

Note that Facebook also collects this information from other users who might be reading your posts or interacting with you. Thus, Facebook uses your friends’ activities to learn more about you, too.

In addition, Facebook tracks your activity on sites on which you’ve signed in with your Facebook account. Facebook not only tracks the individual sites you sign into, but also what you do when you’re on those sites.

Why does Facebook track all this activity? For a number of reasons.

First, Facebook tracks your activity to decide what posts you see in your News Feed. That’s the Top Content model, where your prior interactions determine the future content of your Feed. If you spend more time interacting with posts from a given friend or group, you’ll see more posts for that person or group in the future.

Second, Facebook uses the information it gathers to better target the ads you see on its site. This is why you might see an ad for running shoes after you make a post about jogging in your neighborhood. It seems eerily prescient and intrusive, but otherwise you’d see a bunch of random ads instead. (And you’ll always see ads, no matter what; that’s how Facebook makes money.)

Note that Facebook doesn’t sell your personal data to third parties. (That’s a good thing.) However, any site you’ve logged into with your Facebook credentials can access and share your personal data, as can any app or game you use on the Facebook site. (You give them your permission to do so when you agree to use the app—which you probably didn’t catch before you clicked.)

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