A how-to guide to protecting your Facebook data

Posted by Hannah Couchman on 07 April 2018

In the wake of the recent scandal which saw Cambridge Analytica misuse data belonging to 87 million Facebook users, more and more people are realising that the information they’ve shared on the social media platform has been used in a way they didn’t intend.

Lengthy, complex privacy agreements mean very few people have given fully informed consent to the way their data is used – from your name and age through to your political views and relationship status.

When it comes to our digital lives, privacy protection should be embedded in every service, site and piece of technology, right from the start.


We need to fight for privacy by default and design in all areas of our lives – from policing and security through to our everyday internet use.

But in the meantime you can take action to protect yourself by changing your Facebook privacy settings, or by leaving Facebook altogether.

Here’s how you can do that, how Facebook’s loopholes make it tricky – and what tech companies and our Government should be doing to protect our privacy.

Your privacy settings

Log in to Facebook, ideally using a computer (settings may work differently on phones and other devices).

Click on the menu in the top-right corner of the screen (it looks like a small, downward arrow) and then click on “Settings”.

On the left of the menu that opens up, you’ll see “Privacy”.

You can control who can see your posts on Facebook (“public”, “friends”, “only me” or a customised setting). 

But this will only affect who can see your future posts – not things you have posted in the past.

You can control who can see your old posts – you need to click on “Limit Past Posts” in the “Your Activity” section of the same menu. 

But if your friends aren't using strict privacy settings then photos and other posts you’ve been tagged in could still be shared or viewed by others. Remember that if you’re tagged in someone else's post, they control the audience.

You can control who sends you friend requests and who can search for you using your email address or telephone number

But remember you need to change who can see your mobile phone number or email on your profile separately.

You can enable “Timeline Review”, so you can check posts you’re tagged in before they appear on your timeline. 

But this won’t stop the content from appearing on the Facebook news feed – it just prevents them appearing on your own profile.

And you can say no to search engines outside of Facebook linking to your profile under “How People Find and Contact You”. 

But some information from your profile, and some things you share on Facebook, can still appear in search engine results.


You can control what information third-party apps on Facebook can access. Click on “Apps” in the left-hand menu.

Hover over each app listed, and click on the pencil icon to change what an app can do in relation to your data. You can also delete the app.

But apps you’ve previously installed and deleted could still have information you have shared. You will need to contact them to find out how to remove this data.


You can amend your advertisement preferences by clicking on “Ads” in the left hand menu – and review the list of things Facebook thinks you’re interested in.

Facebook decides which ads it shows you based on what you have posted, your general Facebook activity, other information from your profile and even your activity on websites and apps other than Facebook.

You can amend this list to better reflect your interests, or delete the information altogether.

But this won’t change the number of ads you see – and you’ll need to use a computer (rather than a phone) to access some of the ad options.


Facebook tracks you across the web even when you’re not actively using it, and this information can then be shared with advertisers and other third parties.

You can prevent Facebook from doing this by logging out of Facebook.

But you will need to make sure you don’t leave Facebook logged in on your phone, home computer, work computer, tablet etc. You can see all your open Facebook sessions in your settings page (click on “Security and login” in the left-hand menu), and close any unnecessary sessions.

You can also protect your privacy without logging out by using third-party tracker blockers, which use an algorithm to “learn” which social or ad networks are tracking you over time and then blocks them (try Ghostery, Disconnect or Privacy Badger).

You can access Facebook through your browser’s private-browsing or “incognito” mode. This will erase your browsing and search histories, as well as any cookies (pieces of code that track your online activity) you have picked up.

But this only stops your computer from keeping a record of where you go online – it doesn’t stop sites from tracking and collecting data on you, and doesn’t do anything to protect your online privacy or security.

Deactivating Facebook

You can deactivate your account – which will remove your profile – by clicking “General” in the left-hand menu and then “Manage account”.

But deactivating your Facebook account doesn't delete your login or any of the information Facebook has on you. All you have to do is log back in and everything will be restored.

Deleting Facebook

You might feel like you shouldn’t have to navigate complicated settings to ensure that your data is protected. A final option is to delete your account – and Facebook intentionally makes this difficult.

You won’t find an option on your settings menu – you need to request deletion directly from Facebook. Two weeks after you make your request, Facebook will begin a 90-day deletion process.

But some of the things you do on Facebook aren’t stored in your account – for example, a friend may still have messages from you and third-party apps will still have access to any personal data they stored, even after your account has been permanently deleted.

Accessing your data

You can download all of the data Facebook has accumulated on you – and this will also help you preserve anything you don’t want to lose if you choose to delete Facebook.

Click on “Download a copy of your Facebook data” at the bottom of the “General” settings menu.

The data you download will include every single post you’ve shared, every message you’ve sent, received and deleted, photos, ads you’ve opened, IP addresses you’ve used, contact information for friends and family and events you have attended.

To download your data, go to settings and select “Download a copy of your Facebook data” from the “General” section.

But the data is not provided instantaneously – it will take a while for the data to be gathered and it will be emailed to you as a zip file. Just downloading your data will not delete it from Facebook.

What more needs to be done?

We shouldn’t have to fight for our data to be protected, navigating intentionally complex menus to ensure even a basic level of privacy.

Tech companies need to do more to protect our data in an open and transparent way, giving us more information and control over how it is used and allowing us to leave digital platforms quickly and easily – taking our data with us.

But the Government needs to do more too. Those in power should respect our data by being clear on what is expected of companies and agencies that handle it, including political parties.

We deserve no less than privacy by default and design, laid out in law and enforced by Government regulation. Our privacy should be seen for what it is – a fundamental right, not something for politicians to reduce or ignore when it’s seen to get in the way of “progress”.

In fact, research shows that enhancing consumer privacy supports innovation by increasing trust in new technologies.

The Government also needs to preserve our privacy and data protection as fundamental rights after Brexit. It should provide safeguards against non-consensual use of data for exploitative advertising, particularly when it threatens to corrupt our democratic process.

As our digital lives continue to evolve, our right to privacy – and the values of dignity and consent – belong at the heart of innovation and progress.

Hannah Couchman Liberty

Hannah Couchman

Advocacy and Policy Officer