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How To Stop Letting Facebook (And Other Sites) Take Your Data

Posted by nik on April 9, 2018

Facebook has been under major scrutiny over privacy concerns after users worldwide found out about the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Things have only gotten worse after folks have discovered just how much data Facebook is scraping off of your phone (call records, text message metadata, etc). It has prompted the #deletefacebook movement, where thousands of users are deleting their Facebook accounts — in fact, even Elon Musk took down the Tesla and SpaceX pages from the social media platform.

Politics behind this scandal aside, this has become extremely concerning for everyday users and their data privacy. For some, the situation is quite easy — simply delete your Facebook account. However, not everyone wants to or even can do this. After all, Facebook might be a way of bringing in your livelihood, or maybe you have friends and family all over the world you want to stay connected with. Luckily, there are still ways you can keep Facebook and stop them from collecting all of your data. Follow along below, and we’ll show you how you can limit the majority of Facebook’s data collection.

Desktop & Mobile

It’s worth noting that you can stop Facebook from accessing all of your data on a desktop relatively easy. It’s as simple as putting Facebook in a “container,” which we’ll go over in a minute. On Android, it’s a little more difficult since you install it on your system and give it permission to access all of your data simply by downloading it and accepting all the terms. On Android, the best practice is simply to remove the Facebook app from your phone — there’s no real way to keep the “main” Facebook app in a container like we can on the desktop.

However, there are still ways you can access Facebook on your phone (without them having access to all of your data) if you don’t want to give it up entirely. But keep in mind that we’ll still have to delete the main Facebook app and switch it out with a third-party option, which we’ll touch on in a moment.

Desktop Container

The primary way to access Facebook on the computer is through a Web browser. This makes it simple to put Facebook in a container through an extension that Mozilla recently started offering. Right now, you’ll need to have the Mozilla Firefox browser on your computer as the Facebook Container, at least right now, is only available in Firefox. You can download Firefox for free here.

Next, we’ll need to download the Facebook Container extension. You can download it for free from Mozilla at this link.

It’ll install inside the browser, and once it finishes, it’ll ask for your permission to operate. When prompted, select the “OK” button.

For the next step, we’ll want to restart the browser. Simply close it, and open it up again.

Now, navigate to www.facebook.com, and if it’s working, you should see — in the address bar — some light blue text that says “Facebook” followed by a briefcase icon. It should look like the picture above.

That’s all there is to setting up — it’s super easy, as Mozilla designed it so that even those who aren’t tech savvy are able to easily protect their data from Facebook. If you ever want to disable it, simply open the hamburger menu in Firefox and select Add-Ons.

Next, simply click “Disable” if you want to temporarily stop the Facebook Container add-on, or select “Remove” to delete it permanently. You can always add it back later following the steps above.

It’s worth noting that this add-on isn’t an all-encompassing data protection extension. Facebook Container simply prevents Facebook from tracking anything outside of the container it’s in. This means that anything you do “inside” Facebook can still be used by Facebook, such as photos you upload to Facebook, comments you make on Facebook and any data you might share through connected apps and accounts. And by connected apps or accounts, we mean those apps and accounts that allow you to register and log-in with Facebook, skipping the normal account creation process (i.e. creating a Spotify account with Facebook would allow Facebook to see and read your Spotify data).

All in all, if you’re worried about Facebook data collection inside Facebook, just be wary of what you do/upload with the social media platform. This plugin, however, takes care of all the external problems, such as them not being able to track your browser history, browser cookies and more.

Privacy Badger

If you’re looking for something a little more robust and not specific to Facebook, we recommend using the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Privacy Badger add-on. This add-on will stop almost any site from tracking you across the Internet. Privacy Badger looks for sites/domains that have planted suspiciously planted cookies to track you across the Web, and once it detects these sources, it blocks them and gets rid of them, which means the domain tracking you won’t be able to anymore.

You can download the Privacy Badger plugin for free. Grab it here from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It’ll give you a couple options to choose from, depending on the browser you have. If you have Firefox, download the Firefox option. If you have Opera, download the Opera option, and so on.

Once installed, Privacy Badger should appear at the top right of your browser. If you click it, you should be able to see a list of blocked trackers. Don’t worry if it hasn’t blocked anything right after you installed it. Instead of already having a list of blocked sites built into it, it scans for trackers as you browse and puts an end to them that way. The more you browse, the better Privacy Badger gets.

As you can see in the image above, Privacy Badger has detected some potential trackers and will block them or at least block the tracking portion of them in order to not break the page. In the image above, you’ll notice a “Disable Privacy Badger for this Site” button. If you don’t want Privacy Badger to protect you on a specific site, simply click that button on the page you don’t want protected.

If you click the gear icon in the Privacy Badger dropdown, you can modify its settings. Here, you can add domains you want to whitelist. It’s essentially the same thing as pressing that “Disable Privacy Badger for this Site” button, but here you can add sites manually, as well as remove them if you ever want to.

For added protection, you can also select the “Prevent WebRTC from leaking local IP address” button. WebRTC is a real-time communication module that help things like Google Hangouts work on the back-end side of things — it can sometimes leak your local IP address, but by checking the box, performance in instant messengers like Hangouts can drastically decrease. It’s up to you if you want to do that.

Mobile

On mobile, Firefox doesn’t have its Facebook Container extension available just yet; however, for those of you that use the Facebook app from the Play Store instead of accessing it through your mobile browser, there are apps that do a similar thing to Facebook Container.

So, the first step would be getting rid of the Facebook app on your phone, if you’re ready to pull the trigger. By deleting the app off of your phone, Facebook won’t be able to read call or text message meta data. It won’t be able to scan your phone for anything else either.

To replace it and continue using Facebook on your phone, we’ll download the free Tinfoil for Facebook app. This creates a private “wrapper” of the Facebook website. This app creates a sandbox that Facebook isn’t able to leave, so you don’t have to worry about the above problems or things like browser tracking or anything else. Tinfoil for Facebook certainly doesn’t make things the prettiest — but it’s a small price to pay for knowing that Facebook isn’t able to track you this way.

Once you have the app downloaded, it’s as simple as logging in and using it. There are a couple options you might want to change, such as enabling check-ins or allowing sites to be open with the Tinfoil for Facebook app — it all depends on how much data you want Facebook to have. You can change these by hitting the “+” button at the top right corner of the app and clicking on “Preferences.”

Closing

Mass data collection without your permission is just something that isn’t OK. Generally, the idea is that sites like Facebook observe all of your data and can get a really good idea of what to advertise you as an individual — if they can get it right, you’ll click an advertisement and buy the product — that makes them a ton of money. From what we know, Facebook doesn’t sell this user data, but there are companies that purchase this type of data for tons of money for that exact same reason — extremely accurate advertising. It might seem harmless, but your data is your private property (as recently ruled in Europe) and shouldn’t be, for all intents and purposes, stolen from you and then used against you.

Not only that, but there’s always the underlying fear that your data is being used for mass surveillance in an Orwellian type fashion, and many were extremely frustrated that when things like the NSA data collection were revealed. While you can’t put a stop to government tracking through simple tools like this, you can at least get private companies out of your business, which is exactly what tools like Facebook Container and Privacy Badger are doing. In the Information Age, user data is like gold, and you shouldn’t be freely giving it out, or even let companies steal it from you.

Hopefully we helped you put a stop to a large part of that, but keep in mind that you can’t stop data collection within a company’s services. So, if you continue to use Facebook, you can’t stop them from collecting data on your likes, comments and photos within that service. However, with the plugins we showed you how to install, you can at least stop that service from following you to other unrelated sites simply to collect your data.

One thought on “How To Stop Letting Facebook (And Other Sites) Take Your Data”

Crenshaw says:
If you have a VPN, doesn’t that do the same thing as far as protecting your data?
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