Facebook: protecting your privacy

Are you sharing more than you realise?
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01 .Introduction


We outline what you need to know to know maintaining your privacy on Facebook.

Facebook is used by more than one billion people worldwide every month. People have taken to Facebook because it makes connecting with others so easy. Its popularity is all about sharing: comments, likes and dislikes, links to websites, articles and videos, personal information, your whereabouts and activities. 

The downside to all this sharing, however, is that it reveals your personal information and your internet browsing habits to the social networking websites you use and, in turn, to advertisers, marketers and possibly criminals who operate online.

For more information about the internet, see Networking and internet.

Data collection

Facebook, one of the most widely used sites worldwide, probably holds more data on more people around the world than any government, and this vast repository has been created by participants who voluntarily divulge details of their lives. However, as the number of Facebook subscribers has grown, there’s also been an increasing unease about how it uses this information. 

Governments, privacy experts, activists and many users are concerned about how and where this personal information is used, who can access it and how Facebook can be compelled to be responsible with this goldmine of data.

Understanding all the privacy settings for your account can be daunting. What you may not realise is that while you have some say over what your friends and the public can see of your profile, Facebook can accumulate personal user data for other purposes.

Your valuable personal information is used to provide targeted advertising within the Facebook platform, as well as to provide feedback to advertisers on who is clicking on their ads.

Privacy experts argue users’ personal information is the product being sold by Facebook to advertisers. A website called Facecrooks publishes information on scams and privacy issues related to Facebook and other social networking platforms to alert concerned people to the risks. It has a “safety centre” with tips and instructions on privacy and security. 

Some critics say Facebook exploits personal disclosure without providing adequate ways to permanently delete or redress comments, photos or other contributions that users don’t like, aren’t comfortable with or change their mind about.

It puts the onus on users to monitor and update changing privacy settings, they argue, and doesn’t offer adequate privacy protection for users because its real customers are the online behavioural advertising industry and buyers for online advertisers. Critics also say that Facebook doesn’t adequately address the implications and risks that come with encouraging other people to tag photos and identify you.

Privacy statistics

  • About two-thirds of internet users use social networking sites.
  • Most social networking site users (58%) restrict access to their profiles, and women are significantly more likely to choose private settings.
  • Some 67% of women who maintain a profile say they’ve deleted people from their network, compared with 58% of men.
  • More than half of social networking site users (58%) say their main profile is set to private so that only friends can see it; 19% set their profile to partially private so that friends of friends can view it, and 20% say their main profile is set to be completely public.
  • 26% of those whose profile is set  to at least partially private say they use additional privacy settings to limit what certain friends can and cannot see.
  • The complexity of privacy settings varies greatly across different social networking sites, and in the case of Facebook, the default settings have changed significantly over time.
  • In all, 48% of social networkers report some level of difficulty in managing the privacy controls on their profile, while 49% say that it is “not difficult at all”.
  • Ten per cent of social networking site users have posted content they regret.
  • Profile “pruning” – deleting unwanted friends, comments and photo tags – is growing in popularity.
  • Most social networking users are on Facebook and manage their social media presence through one account.

What else is out there?

Some other popular social networking sites include Twitter, the messaging service; LinkedIn, a professional site that promotes your work and skills; and Google+, a social sharing service.


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  • Log out of any sites each time you’re finished and before going to browse elsewhere online.
  • Use browser plug-ins to limit how and where your cyber movements can be tracked.
  • Don’t use third-party social media-sharing buttons on websites, such as news sites that ask for your Twitter, Facebook or other log-in details and that can post on your behalf.
  • Don’t sign up to third-party apps, tools or games that want your personal information and can share on your behalf.
  • Go through each setting on Facebook to protect your identity.
  • Don’t sign in to other social services and websites using your Twitter or Facebook profile as this links these profiles for potentially cross-posting and cross-sharing your movements.
  • Look for privacy policies on websites that state it doesn’t collect your computer’s  internet address.
  • Sign out of Google or Gmail before using Google search or use a search engine, such as Duckduckgo, that doesn’t collect or share your personal data.
  • Go to the Google Dashboard (if you have a Google account) to check what information is collected and alter your privacy settings.

It’s alarming that Facebook is changing our definition of privacy by encouraging people to share in the name of friendship without due consideration of the business built on it. In the US, a privacy bill of rights has been proposed to give users greater control over how their data is used on the internet, and while this may not get up, the issue of online privacy will continue to gain importance. 

Facebook’s data use policy runs to many pages and outlines how your data may be used.

Facebook gathers data about you and how you use apps within Facebook, and has information about web users on external websites with Facebook buttons. 

It installs cookies (browser plug-ins) on your computer and uses pixels (code used on web pages) to measure web page views and provides user data to aggregators – external companies that analyse the data for personalising ads within Facebook. It also monitors users on some external sites. 

Browser Tools

Some browsers have inbuilt tools to limit how and where you’re tracked  on the internet, while others allow you to turn on or open a new in-private browsing window. Follow the steps outlined below for each browser, then look at additional browser plug-ins to further hide your online movements.


Go to Tools > Options > Privacy tab and check the box Tell websites I do not want to be tracked.

            Firefox plug-ins: AdBlock Plus, Ghostery, Do Not Track Plus, NoScript, Priv3

Google Chrome

Go to the wrench tool and click New incognito window.

            Chrome plug-ins: AdBlock Plus, Ghostery, ScriptNo, Do Not Track Plus


Go to Safari > Private Browsing and click OK.

            Safari plug-ins: Do Not Track Plus, AdBlock, Ghostery

Internet Explorer

Go to Tools > InPrivate Browsing

            Internet Explorer plug-ins:  Do Not Track Plus, Ghostery


Go to Menu > Tabs and Windows > New Private Tab

           Opera plug-ins: AdBlock, Ghostery, NotScripts

Browser Plug-ins

  • AdBlock Plus/AdBlock prevents ads loading in the browser
  • Ghostery shows if your computer’s internet address is being recorded and by whom
  • Do Not Track Plus blocks websites and social networking sites from tracking you on the net
  • NoScript controls how JavaScript is used in your Mozilla browser
  • ScriptNo limits JavaScript on sites potentially being used to access  login information for other websites
  • Priv3 stops social networking sites installing cookies on your computer that will track your internet movements
  • NotScripts blocks JavaScript and other scripted content

In its data use policy, Facebook goes into some detail about the amount of information it receives about its users and the ways it uses that information. Read Facebook's Complete Data Use Policy.

In its own words Facebook states:

  • We receive your registration information and information about you from your friends.
  • Whenever you interact with Facebook, we receive data such as look at a timeline, search for a friend or page, view things, or send or receive a message.
  • When you post a photo or video, we may find out the metadata such as time, date and place the photo or video was taken.
  • We receive data about you including the device, internet service, internet address, location and type of browser whenever you interact with Facebook.
  • We receive information when you visit a game, application or website that uses the Facebook platform.
  • We receive information when you visit a site with a Facebook plug-in including date, time, web address, internet address, browser, operating system and, if you are logged in, your user ID.
  • We put together data about you to determine which friends we show in your news feed or suggest you tag in photos you post.
  • We get data from our advertising partners and other third-parties to deliver ads, understand online activity and make Facebook better.
  • When others share information about you, they can choose to make it public.
  • If you’re logged in to Facebook and visit a website with the ‘Like’ button or another social plug-in, your browser sends us information about your visit.
  • When you click ‘Like’ or ‘Recommend’ on an external site and you’re logged 
  • in on Facebook, a story will appear on your timeline and may appear in ticker and/or news feed, just as if you liked something on Facebook.
  • Things like cookies and pixels are used to understand and deliver ads and make them more relevant to you.

Facebook Activity Report

Facebook can collate all your Facebook activity and information and send it to you as  a report. To activate, click the ˇ next to your name and then Account Settings > Download a copy of your Facebook data under the list of general settings. 

The archive includes status updates, messages, photos and videos you’ve shared, friends’ names and some of their email addresses. It also lists times, dates, IP addresses for devices used to log in to Facebook as well as browser and operating system details for the device.

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