7 Things You Need to Know Before You Delete Your Facebook Account and the 1 Thing You Absolutely Must Do

If you saw the news about data collected via social media and got the urge to delete Facebook, you’re not alone. The hashtag #deletefacebook and search term “how to delete my Facebook account” all rose to new popularity after the scandal broke March 17. Before you decide to leave the social network entirely, you may want to know these facts.

1. How much data did the firm collect?

Cambridge Analytica's Alexander Nix giving a speech

They got data from 50 million users. | Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Concordia Summit

The New York Times reported that Cambridge Analytica, a British consulting firm, improperly acquired the private data of about 50 million Facebook users. Only about 270,000 of those consented to their data’s collection. The firm used it to target voters on behalf of the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election. That’s a far cry from the “academic” uses the firm originally stated.

Next: If your data fell into their hands, you might want to know what they know.

2. What kind of data did the firm access?

Facebook ad settings

They can gather a surprising amount of information. | Facebook

Officials at Facebook said that Cambridge collected no passwords or “sensitive pieces of information.” The firm used the data it did harvest to create sophisticated profiles of users. It collected information about a user’s location, ages, pages they liked, and even users with whom they regularly interacted.

Next: The prevalence of the practice might surprise you.

3. How many apps and services do this?

Posters depicting Cambridge Analytica's CEO Alexander Nix behind bars,

They’re not the only ones. | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

If you ever played a Facebook game like FarmVille, took a quiz, or filled out a survey, your data probably went somewhere. Third-party apps collect huge amounts of detailed personal data about Facebook users every day. Users can opt out of sharing specific pieces of information, but the site does not disclose how many actually do. No option currently exists for opting out of data sharing entirely, so if you want to use third-party apps, you share your data. Period.

Next: Collecting this data actually helps Facebook continue operating.

4. Does Facebook benefit from letting this happen?

A big logo created from pictures of Facebook users worldwide is pictured in the company's Data Center

People want to spend more time on the site. | Jonathan Nackstrand/Getty Images

In a word, yes. Third-party developers built millions of apps on top of Facebook’s platform, giving social media users more reasons to spend time on the site. That, in turn, generates more advertising revenue for Facebook. If the site did decide to restrict access to data, that would make it less useful to developers, and could send them to competing platforms.

Next: Facebook admitted that integration did not work as expected.

5. Why did Facebook let these apps access your data?

Facebook logos

A lot of Facebook execs regret it.  | Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

In a Facebook post, Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook vice president, admitted he regretted opening up the platform as wide as they did. “We thought that every app could be social,” Bosworth said. “Your calendar should have your events and your friends birthdays, your maps should know where your friends live, your address book should show their pictures. It was a reasonable vision but it didn’t materialize the way we had hoped.” Because if all of your apps know everything about you, so do their developers.

Next: Don’t think these always mean forces for evil, though.

6. Are there any ways data sharing can be used for good?

Hurricane Irma in Pembroke

They can help respond to natural disasters. | Michele Eve Sandberg/AFP/Getty Images

Researchers and nongovernmental organizations also use Facebook’s third-party development tools to respond to natural disasters. They can help locate missing people and even pets. In addition, many of the functions that internet users depend on, like importing digital address books into messaging apps or updating your calendar, require some data sharing. These tools use third-party application programming interfaces, or A.P.I.s., to make your apps work together.

“Everything we depend on uses A.P.I.s,” said Kin Lane, a software engineer. “They’re in your home, in your business, in your car. It’s how these platforms innovate and do cool, interesting things.” So no, you really can’t keep all of your data locked away. Not if you want your apps to work the way they should.

Next: If you do decide to log off for good, do this one thing first.

7. What if I’m really ready to get off Facebook?

Apple Iphone 6 screen with social media applications

If you’re ready, you can delete the app. | HStocks/iStock/Getty Images

If you really want to delete Facebook, make sure you back up all of the data that you kept there. Make sure you also establish other means of communication with online friends before you cut yourself off. Save birthdays in an external app, like your phone’s calendar, too. And don’t forget to download important photos. You may want to keep your data safe, but those things are even more important.

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