How To Deactivate Facebook (Updated For February 2021)
It’s no secret that spending too much time on Facebook can be taxing. On any given day, the platform can play host to misleading information, unnecessary drama, and unrelenting political drivel. No one could blame you for wanting to step away from all of that.
However, did you know that deactivating your Facebook is also a critical step in protecting your digital privacy? Since its inception in 2004, the social media conglomerate has been collecting, monitoring, and selling sensitive information on its 2.6 billion users. And they haven’t always done so responsibly.
Today we’re going to break down everything Facebook knows about you, what they’re doing with your data, and the steps you can take to protect yourself – namely, how to deactivate your Facebook account.
Why Should I Care That Facebook Stores Information About Me?
Any time data is collected about you on the Internet, it’s important to know how it’s being used and who has access to it. When it comes to social media platforms like Facebook, where your profile is filled with sensitive information, it’s even more important.
On top of that, data breaches happen every day. And recent history has shown us that no company, no matter how large, is immune. You’d be surprised what a cybercriminal can accomplish simply by knowing your name and birth date, let alone your private messages and browsing history (yes, Facebook stores that information).
However, the primary reason you should be concerned about the amount of data Facebook stores is simple: the company hasn’t always been ethical in its usage of your private information.
The Cambridge Analytica Scandal
In 2013 Russian researcher Alexsander Kogan developed an application for Facebook that allowed users to take a survey regarding their political leanings. Around 270,000 people willingly signed up for the survey, but the questionnaire wasn’t as innocent as it seemed.
See, although Facebook states explicitly in their Terms of Service that no user data can be acquired or purchased for the purpose of marketing or advertising, the social networking giant does allow data troves to be used for what the company deems as “academic purposes”.
Cambridge Analytica purchased the data from Kogan (an academic researcher) and used this loophole in Facebook’s ToS to acquire data on over 50 million US users, making it the largest data breach of personal information in modern history. Analytica then turned around and used the data to target people and influence them to vote for the Republican ticket in the 2016 presidential election. Many believe this misuse of sensitive information played a large role in Donald Trump swaying the election in his favor.
Facebook says that it noticed the transfer of the data from Dr. Kogan to Cambridge Analytica in 2015, at which point they deleted his survey application and investigated to make sure the 50 million profiles had been deleted from Analytica’s servers.
Then in March of 2018, the New York Times published a damning report with firsthand accounts from employees of Cambridge Analytica at the time of the breach. The report claimed that not only did Facebook never delete the data but that it had been used to influence voters leading all the way back to 2015.
Their tactics included buying ads which only displayed on certain users’ profiles and directing users to external content that aligned with the political leanings hinted at in their Facebook account. The end goal was to make people more agreeable to any proposals the Trump campaign put forth.
Cambridge Analytica was able to access nearly every aspect of the violated users’ lives, using their status updates, likes, pages visited, and more to specifically target them and influence their perception of certain political candidates.
Facebook let the data of their users be used to misinform and sway the political ideology of millions of people. While there’s no way to determine the exact impact the Cambridge Analytica scandal had on the 2016 election, it’s extremely concerning that a data breach could have played a role in who became President of the United States.
Facebook Faces The Fallout & More Logging Questions Arise
Despite becoming aware of the data breach in 2015, Facebook kept all wrongdoings on behalf of Cambridge Analytica a secret from the public. It was only years later — after he had been called out by the press and authorities alike — that Mark Zuckerberg addressed the breach and admitted that his company lost control of their data.
“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you. I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago. But we also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it.”
Despite Zuckerberg’s seemingly good-intentioned statement, journalists began digging to find out exactly what the company knew about their users; and the results weren’t great. A 2018 report by Ars Technica found that Facebook was collecting an alarming amount of information from Android users. Not only did the Facebook app collect contacts (a known tactic), but it also seemed to be keeping track of the people who texted and called from the phone as well as the length of the call and the metadata left behind from the text.
Downloaded my facebook data as a ZIP file
Somehow it has my entire call history with my partner's mum pic.twitter.com/CIRUguf4vD
— Dylan McKay (@dylanmckaynz) March 21, 2018
The data collection was achieved through a loophole in the way that older versions of Android (specifically Jellybean 4.1 and below) handled permissions. Before Marshmallow, Android would lump permissions together instead of allowing users to toggle them individually. This meant if Messenger or Facebook were given permission to access the phone’s contacts (generally to find other people using the app), it would also scrape the phone for call and SMS logs.
Facebook responded to Ars Technica by claiming that, due to the permissions loophole, they were fully within their legal right to use that metadata as the company saw fit.
Unfortunately, even though Facebook claims they are protecting your data (and must legally, according to a 2011 Senate hearing), it’s clear that the company does not always have the best interest of their users in mind.
How To Find Out What Facebook Knows About You
Unsurprisingly, Facebook doesn’t make it easy for its users to find out what information is being collected, who has access to that data, and where all that data eventually ends up. They don’t want you to know the level at which your privacy is being invaded, because then you might stop willfully handing over personal data.
Based on our research, here’s the best way to view every piece of data you have shared with Facebook during the lifespan of your account.
Download Your Digital Archive
This data archive is a complete picture of everything that Facebook has ever collected on you, dating back to the day you signed up for the service. This includes Messenger archives, posts to your Timeline, and the companies and applications that you’ve granted profile access to over the years.
We recommend viewing this information to get a better idea of which applications are using your data to advertise to you, who has permission to use your login, and the overall digital footprint you have created during your time on Facebook.
Depending on the version you use (New or Classic), here is how the Facebook Help Center says you can access and download your information:
Once the *.zip file is downloaded, extract it to a folder of your choice and navigate to the sub-folder labeled HTML. Depending on the amount of information in your file and the speed of your computer, this process can take several minutes to complete.
Once all of the files have been extracted, you should see a group of folders similar to this:
We encourage you to take some time and peruse through these folders. You may be surprised at what data Facebook is storing about you.
Of significant note is the “ads_and_businesses” folder. Here you can find advertisers who have uploaded a contact list with your information, advertisers you’ve interacted with, and the information you’ve submitted to advertisers.
You’ll also want to check out your off-Facebook activity. This is where sites you visit share information about you with Facebook, which can be particularly concerning. Here’s some information about how Facebook collects and uses data on your web activity.
Even if you choose not to deactivate your Facebook account, we recommend using your data archive as a general guideline moving forward to help you gain greater control over who has access to your profile data.
How To Control Your Facebook App Settings
An additional step you can take in managing your privacy is to limit what information Facebook shares with third-party apps you use. To do this, navigate to Settings & Privacy > Settings > Apps and Websites. You’ll arrive on the following screen:
Here you’ll find a full list of the applications that currently have access to your Facebook profile. To see and edit what information they have access to, click the ‘View and edit’ hyperlink to the right of any application.
In the pop-up window, you’ll be able to determine if the app can see your friends list, birthday, page likes, email address, and other information. You’ll also be able to choose if the app can send you notifications and decide who can see that you use the app. There is also an option to remove the app entirely if you don’t want it to have access to your Facebook.
How To Conduct A Privacy Checkup
Privacy Checkup is a tool that Facebook provides to let users quickly configure their profiles’ privacy settings. For people who don’t want to spend time navigating through their settings to find the information they’re looking for, the Privacy Checkup tool is a very user-friendly way to gain greater control over your Facebook data.
Again, you’ll need to navigate to the Settings & Privacy drop-down menu, then select Privacy Checkup. You’ll arrive at the following screen:
We recommend going through each of these sections to ensure you aren’t unknowingly sharing sensitive information you would rather keep private.
How to Deactivate Or Delete Your Facebook Account
At the end of the day, regardless of how long you tinker with your privacy settings, the only way to truly protect your sensitive data is to deactivate your Facebook. It’s a simple process, but Facebook doesn’t do much to guide you along the way.
To start, navigate to Settings & Privacy > Settings > Your Facebook Information. You’ll arrive at the following screen:
From here, you’ll click the ‘View’ hyperlink to the right of ‘Deactivation and Deletion’. That will take you to a screen where you will have to choose whether you want to temporarily deactivate or permanently delete your account. The primary difference is that you will still be able to use Messenger with a deactivated Facebook account, and you can sign back in at any time to reactivate it.
However, for complete privacy protection, we recommend permanently deleting your account.
Once you select your preferred option and select continue, you’ll have to enter your password, provide a reason for leaving, and click a final confirmation button. If you choose to delete your account permanently, you’ll also have the option to download the photos and posts you have uploaded to Facebook. If you decide you don’t actually want to delete your profile, you’ll have 30 days to reactivate your account before Facebook permanently wipes your data.
And that’s it! That is how to deactivate your Facebook account. You no longer have to worry about Facebook or third-party applications misusing your private information. You won’t be affected by the next data breach Facebook suffers, because they no longer have any data on you or your browsing habits.
Don’t Want To Deactivate Facebook? Use A VPN!
If you want to continue to use Facebook and protect your privacy as much as possible, we recommend using a VPN. Keep in mind that Facebook will still have access to any information you’ve entered in your profile, but using a VPN will severely limit their ability to track your browsing data, location, and identity.
Here are our best VPN to protect your privacy while using Facebook: