Facebook

Facebook is watching and tracking you more than you know

Photo illustration (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic).

Photo illustration (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic).

When you’re on Facebook, do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched? An ad pops up that’s right up your alley, or three new articles show up in your feed that are similar to something you’ve just clicked on.

If it sometimes seems like Facebook knows you personally, that’s because it does. It has algorithms that track what you like, watch and click on, and then it passes that information on to Facebook advertisers.

Facebook isn’t the only culprit. Tons of companies use Facebook’s platform as a way to track you. In fact, right now there probably are dozens of companies watching your posts, storing your profile information and more, without you even realizing it. Today, I’m going to tell you how to stop it.

How did this happen in the first place?

When Facebook started out, people rushed to the platform because of the many perks it offered. One of those perks, and probably the most appealing, was that Facebook was ad-free. You could use the platform to connect with family and friends without being bothered by someone trying to sell you something.

Well, like they say, “All good things must come to an end.” Eventually, Facebook began selling ads like everyone else. And that’s when everything changed.

People realized that Facebook provided a trove of information for advertisers. By clicking “like,” users were telling companies exactly what they wanted – more of this, less of that, please. This led to the big data tracking we now see.

Three sneaky ways companies are tracking you

Most people understand that Facebook is tracking their preferences when they use the app, but few realize they’re being tracked in other ways, too. And that’s what these third-party companies are banking on. If you don’t know you’re being tracked, then you won’t ask them to stop. So here are three things to watch out for.

Facebook apps: If you’ve ever received a request to play a Facebook game your friends are obsessed with, and you signed up, you’ve allowed that app developer to track you. These third-party apps integrate with your Facebook profile and generally have permission to pull whatever information they want. You can edit what they can access, but very few people do.

Facebook logins: When you visit a site and it says "Log in with Facebook," and you do, you're letting that company track you.

Friends’ apps monitoring you: Even if you don’t download an app, Facebook's default settings allow apps your friends have installed to see YOU, too. It’s pretty scary.

How to stop it:

You might be wondering why this matters, and how it affects you. The easiest way to answer those questions is to point out all of those big data breaches you constantly hear about. Hackers rarely waste time on individuals these days. They’ve got much bigger fish to fry. Large retailers, for example – or the databases where these third-party companies store the information they’ve gathered. That’s why all of us should take these steps to protect our private information.

Review and edit installed apps: To see what apps you've installed over the years, open Facebook in your browser, click the down arrow in the upper right corner and select "Settings." Then click on the "Apps" header in the left column.

To see what information an app is accessing, click the pencil icon next to it to edit the settings. The first setting lets you set who can see that you use the app. It defaults to "Only Me," so it isn't a big deal. But below it is another story.

In the case of Skype, for example, it pulls your public profile information along with your list of friends, email address, birthday and hometown.

Remember that this information is being stored on a third-party server. Not every app developer is going to have Microsoft-level security, and hackers are good at turning tiny pieces of stolen information into big gains.

If you want to keep using the app, you can deselect certain items, such as your email address. That won't remove the information from the app developer's servers, but if you change your email address in the future, the developer won't get the new one.

Remove apps you don’t use: If you don't want to use the app anymore, you can click the "Remove app" link at the bottom of the page. Just remember that this won't automatically remove your information from the app developer's servers. You'll need to contact the app developer directly for that. Facebook has a link for more information on this under the "Remove info collected by the app" section in the app's settings.

Turn off apps completely: If you've deleted all the apps and you're not keen on accidentally installing more, you can turn off the app platform completely. Just note you won't be able to install apps or log in to third-party sites using Facebook until you turn this back on.

To turn off the app platform, go back to the App Settings page. Under "Apps, Websites and Plugins," click the "Edit" button. Then click the "Disable Platform" link in the bottom left corner.

Facebook gives you the standard warning about what disabling the platform does. If you're OK with it, click the "Disable Platform" button. Again, this won't remove information that app developers might have collected about you already.

Stop logging into sites using Facebook: In the future, when you're adding an app or logging into a website, try to avoid logging in with Facebook. But if you must use Facebook to log in, look for the "Log in Anonymously" or “Guest” option so it won’t share your information.

Stop friends' apps from seeing your info: Apps can still get your information through your friends. By default, when your friends install apps, those apps have permission to grab whatever info your friends can see about you.

To put a stop to this, go back to the App Settings page. Then under "Apps Others Use" click the "Edit" button.

You'll see everything that your friends' apps can see about you. Go through and uncheck every option listed on the page, and then click "Save." Now companies can't track new information about you.

Apps aren't the only worry you'll run into on Facebook. Recently I told you how “like-farming” scammers can put your privacy at risk. Find out how like-farming works and how you can avoid it.

If you want to like something safe that will also bring you the latest news and updates to stay ahead of the game in your digital life, head over to my Facebook page at Facebook.com/KimKomando and click the like button.

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at News.Komando.com.