The damage is done. But here’s what you should do to stay safe from now on.
Unless you’ve exiled yourself to a remote farm to keep disconcerting news stories from reaching you, you’ll be aware by now that Facebook recently admitted to committing a little goof: over 87 million records of Facebook users were inappropriately accessed and collected, exposing over 1 in 4 Americans to serious privacy violations.
But that’s not all. Facebook also admitted that data of “most of its 2 billion users” has been fraudulently obtained by outside groups. In other words, if you use Facebook, it’s almost guaranteed that whatever you’ve shared on that platform could now be in the hands of unknown, potentially malicious, people and organizations.
Where do we go from here?
Unfortunately, not all internet companies are as responsible as we’d like them to be. That’s why this privacy breach makes an excellent opportunity to carry out a thorough audit of the apps and services that you use. Doing so will help you decide which internet companies you should be trusting with your data.
While no internet service is 100% safe, there are some companies and organizations that take better care of your data than others. Whereas Facebook and Google continue to exist purely because they’re able to make unfathomable amounts of money off your data, plenty of smaller companies (and even some larger ones) are committed primarily to keeping your data private and secure.
In other words, if a company profits off your data, it’s more likely that they’ll be a lot more cavalier about keeping your data private. It’s simply not their primary focus.
So, without further ado, here are some suggestions that could help you keep another privacy fiasco like Facebook’s from affecting you.
Use Encrypted Messaging Apps
If you use Facebook messenger, Gmail, Skype, Instagram, Twitter, or almost any major social networking platform to communicate with your friends and family, you should be aware that your chats and calls are routinely monitored and recorded by the company that runs the platform (as well as any third parties that they’ve directly or inadvertently given access to their data).
If you don’t want Google reading your emails, or Facebook combing through your chats, it’s time to start using encrypted messaging apps. These apps employ end-to-end encryption, which prevents anyone from reading the messages being sent except for the communicating users themselves. Not even the app makers themselves (or the NSA) can see what you’re chatting about.
Some messaging apps that employ end-to-end encryption are:
- Apple’s iMessage
Use the right browser extensions
Most websites have Facebook buttons that allow you to like and share pages. But this also means that Facebook can track you as you browse the web, putting your web history at risk (even if you don’t have a Facebook account).
The easiest way to limit this kind of tracking is to use browser extensions. I recommend installing the following:
- uBlock Origin (blocks ads and spyware)
- Privacy Badger (blocks third-party trackers)
- HTTPS Everywhere (enforces encrypted website connections whenever possible)
Delete Your Facebook Account
Okay, I finally said it: if you care about your privacy, you should probably delete your Facebook account.
However, keep in mind that there’s nothing stopping Facebook from retaining at least part of your data after you’ve deleted your account. In fact, much of the data they have about you isn’t even part of your personal account. If someone else uploaded a picture of you, or shared a status update about you, that data won’t be deleted.
This also won’t affect any third parties who’ve been given access to your data in the past.
But deleting your account will help prevent Facebook from collecting further data about you. That’s probably the least you can do to prevent another privacy fiasco from exposing your personal information.
If you’re a social networking butterfly and deleting your account sounds too painful a step to take, you can still accomplish a lot by deleting old posts, untagging yourself from photos, removing apps from your account, ditching Facebook messenger for an encrypted messaging app, deleting Facebook apps from your phone (including Instagram), installing privacy extensions in your browser, and using a separate browser to browse Facebook (or using Tor or a VPN).
You could also consider deleting your account and making a new one using anonymous data and a dedicated email address and phone number exclusively for Facebook (and limiting what you share there). That way, there will be less at stake when the next privacy fiasco comes knocking.
Always keep in mind that nothing you do on the internet is 100% private or secure—but that doesn’t mean you should give up on protecting your privacy and your security.