Facebook's new privacy tools let you scrub your data, for real

Still reeling from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook will let you delete anything from your profile or timeline and end Facebook's use of that data.

Claire Reilly Former Principal Video Producer
Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
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Claire Reilly
3 min read
Facebook 'lost control of its data'

After calls on social media to #DeleteFacebook, Facebook will now let you take more control yourself.

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If you didn't care about Facebook privacy two weeks ago, you probably do now.

The social network has come under a hailstorm of criticism after news broke that 50 million Facebook profiles were passed along to UK data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica and used for political profiling. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had to apologize publicly, and there's no shortage of lawmakers who'd like to talk to him.

Now, 11 days after The New York Times and The Guardian broke the story, Facebook is taking another step to try to prove it cares about privacy.

Facebook  on Wednesday announced it will introduce new features that allow users to take tighter control of their privacy. The changes include making privacy settings "easier to find and use" and bringing into one place all of Facebook's privacy controls, including over personal information and what others see.

But the big feature? You can delete anything from your Facebook profile or timeline and, in turn, end the social network's collection and use of that data.

In an emailed statement, Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan and Deputy General Counsel Ashlie Beringer spelled out the steps the company is taking, saying these will "put people in more control over their privacy."

"We've heard loud and clear that privacy settings and other important tools are too hard to find, and that we must do more to keep people informed," they said.

Here's the basic rundown: 

  • Privacy settings in one place: Simplifies settings from being "spread across nearly 20 different screens."
  • Privacy Shortcuts menu: Brings together two-factor authentication, ad controls, tools to manage who sees your posts and controls for reviewing what you've shared.
  • Access Your Information tool: Lets you access, manage and delete information from your profile or timeline (including posts, reactions, comments and search history).
  • Secure download of all Facebook data: Including photos, contacts and posts (and the ability to move it to another service).

It's a big change. While many of us treat our Facebook posts as social ephemera that slip away into the ether, Facebook has long stored all of this personal data to serve brands and its own ad-targeting tools.

To be sure, users have long been able to download a copy of all the information that Facebook keeps. But for those who went to the effort, this data file was only ever a copy of what Facebook kept. To go dark on Facebook, you had to totally delete your account.

Now you can take the controls and choose which specific parts of your account you no longer want Facebook to use or share with advertisers and which specific posts, reactions, comments and profile details to delete. Previously, Facebook could only forget it for you wholesale.

"Most of these updates have been in the works for some time, but the events of the past several days underscore their importance," Egan and Beringer said.

Nothing like a huge and growing global scandal; a massive drop in your share price; a #DeleteFacebook hashtag trending on Twitter that urges people to purge your app; and a call for your CEO to front up to Congress to get the ball rolling.

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