The revelation that data firm Cambridge Analytica gained access to the personal information of 50 million Facebook users without their approval has caused many Americans to consider leaving the social network.
The New York Times reported Monday that Cambridge Analytica had purchased leaked user data for millions of Americans from a third party, in order to precisely target anti-Hillary Clinton and pro-Donald Trump political messages to help Trump win the 2016 presidential election. Since then, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said the service will be auditing all apps connected to Facebook to prevent such a thing from happening again.
It’s well-known by many that using Facebook means your personal data is being used by companies to sell you things. In fact, it has become an axiom that if you can use a social media service for free, it’s because that service’s product is you. But users expect some control over that data, and in the wake of the New York Times report, the hashtag #DeleteFacebook trended in America as many responded to the leak by dumping the social network that says it counts 1 billion people as users.
So how exactly do you go about quitting Facebook and deleting your account, and how can you be sure your data can’t still be leaked or sold? It’s actually a fairly involved process.
The first thing users need to know is that you can either delete or “deactivate” your Facebook account, and the two options are not equal. Deactivating your account basically renders it dormant, taking it out of the Facebook network but leaving it on the company’s servers. All your profile information, photos and settings are still saved, they’re just hidden from the rest of the social network and the Internet. You can reactivate your account at any time once you’ve deactivated it, and everything will still be waiting for you.
Deleting your Facebook account is a permanent removal, but it’s a little more involved. To do it, you need to submit a request to Facebook for your account’s deletion, and it takes some time.
The quickest and easiest way to delete your account is to either use the Facebook “Help” menu (searching “delete account”) to pull up the deletion page, or to go to facebook.com/help/delete_account.
Pushing the “delete” button on that page won’t immediately scrub your data from the network, though – and Facebook says it might take the company as long as 90 days to deal with the request. Also, as Facebook points out, you might want to download all your Facebook data, photos, videos and so on before you wipe it out forever.
First log on to Facebook and go to the “Settings” menu. You’ll find it at the bottom of the drop down menu that appears when you click the small arrow in the top-right corner of the screen, located next to your name, the “Home” button, and the icons for “Friends,” “Messages,” “Notifications,” and “Help.”
That’ll take you to the “General Settings” menu. At the bottom of that menu, click “Manage Account.”
This menu lets you set a few options for your account, including what happens to it in the event of your death. At the bottom you’ll find the button to deactivate your account.
If you want to download all your Facebook data, go down to the very bottom of the menu (below the “Close” button) and click the link that says “Download a copy of your Facebook data.” After that, click “Start my archive” to get all your stuff from Facebook.
For a less drastic approach to managing your data on Facebook, you can go enact privacy settings for each app connected to your account. You’ll find all the apps on the Facebook app page right here, which allows you to remove any apps you don’t want to access your data.