This time last year, we talked about giving yourself an online privacy tuneup. Perhaps unsurprisingly that topic is more relevant than ever. In the wake of numerous hacks, leaks and privacy scandals, most notably centered around Facebook, we’re all wondering how we can continue to use the internet productively while safeguarding our personal information.
Why does Facebook collect my personal information, anyway?
About 99 percent of Facebook’s revenue comes from advertising. And the reason people are willing to pay to advertise on Facebook instead of, say, on television or in a magazine, is that Facebook knows a lot about you. Obviously they know your name, age, where you work and where you went to school, and anything else you may have told them when you set up your profile, but they also know which websites you visit on the internet.
Wait, how do they know that?
You know those “Like” buttons you see on pretty much every website these days? Anytime you visit one of those webpages, Facebook gets information about your visit to that page. So if you’re shopping for computers on the Best Buy website, Facebook is able to tell advertisers you may be in the market for a new laptop. That makes you more valuable to companies buying computer ads, which means Facebook can charge more in exchange for showing you an ad that links to a site selling computers.
I don’t want to delete my account. How can I maximize my privacy but still keep using Facebook?
Facebook has shareholders to answer to, so they’re unlikely to completely abandon their business model at this point. But you do have some control over how they use your information. You can opt out of seeing targeted ads (keep in mind you’ll still see the same amount of ads, they just won’t be targeted based on your web activity.) And it’s a good idea to check the “Security” and “Privacy” sections of your Account Settings periodically, to make sure you know what you’re sharing and who you’re sharing it with.
For additional reading check out these links:
Facebook Privacy Basics: A guided tour through Facebook’s privacy settings
Electronic Frontier Foundation: Social Networks: The latest news and updates from the online privacy nonprofit
The Verge: Facebook: Up-to-the-minute news about Facebook