Introduction

Most social networks build their business on displaying advertisements. Their targeting (personalization of display) uses a lot of data from the user’s profile, as well as information about actions in the social network, and sometimes even outside of it. By creating a profile on Facebook or Twitter, the user accepts the privacy agreement, often without even reading it, and leaves the privacy settings set by default. This leads to social services accumulating a huge amount of data related to a particular person over the years.

Interestingly, foreign Internet sites are often more client-oriented when it comes to managing personal data. This is partially due to stricter laws (primarily European and American) and partially due to more developed traditions regarding the privacy of correspondence and personal life and a higher culture of handling such information. Nevertheless, the rule is true for both Russian and foreign social services: becoming a user and a donor of information for them is much easier than removing that information later.

In order to minimize the amount of data collected about you by the social network, we recommend that you pay attention to the privacy settings of your profile as early as possible (ideally immediately after registration). If you didn’t limit the site’s “appetites” right away, try deleting some of your accumulated data. We have prepared brief instructions on how to do this on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

How to delete information about yourself from Facebook

Facebook collects a lot of data about the actions of its users. Information that allows for more accurate targeting (and therefore more expensive sales) of ad impressions is the foundation of the social network’s business. Therefore, it knows and remembers a lot about you: what and when you published, whose post you “liked” and what information you were looking for. Moreover, sometimes Facebook shares some of this data with other web resources – as a part of partnership agreements and with your consent (remember the checkboxes you used to sign in to a third-party service with your account). There’s also a reverse scheme – online retailers, banks, cab services, and other companies are giving Facebook data about your actions in order to “catch up” with your advertising in the social network.

According to a study by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, nearly two-thirds of Americans don’t trust Facebook to store their personal data. If you are similarly uncomfortable with surveillance by the social network, we recommend limiting its activity in relation to your personal data, as well as delete the information that you do not want to share. We cannot say that it is a very simple and convenient process, but it is possible to clean up your personal data bank.

First, we recommend downloading an archive of the information Facebook has accumulated about you – to understand the extent of the problem and just in case. Here’s how to do it:

  • Open the Settings and Privacy menu.
  • Select “Settings.”
  • Go to “Your Facebook information.”
  • Click “Download Information.”

By default, all types of data that Facebook accumulates about you are selected; you can deactivate downloading individual sections if necessary. Choose the file format – HTML or JSON – as well as the date range and quality level of the photos and videos you want to download (the size of the archive depends on this), then click “Create File. In an hour or so you’ll receive a link to download the archive to the email address associated with your account.

Let’s start deleting the information. Unfortunately, Facebook does not allow you to “bulk” delete all personal information or individual groups of data, but you can get to each specific entry. Open the same “Your Facebook info” section (see above) and select “View my info”.

This is a comprehensive library of Facebook data related to you: information about all your posts, photos, search history, and interactions with other users. We recommend that you examine each section carefully and remove any redundant data about yourself. Here’s a list of 5 sections you should look at especially closely:

  • “Location and Geo-Log” – all of your movement history as recorded by Facebook.
  • “Search History – a list of your search queries, both general and separate for videos.
  • “Payment History” – all purchases made through Facebook Pay, as well as a list of linked bank cards.
  • “Apps and Sites” – third-party resources that you access using your Facebook account. They may have access to your data on the social network.
  • “Voice recordings and text versions thereof” – anything you’ve searched for using voice queries, as well as any recordings made when Facebook decided you wanted to use voice search.

Check it out even if you’ve never used it before. Finally, we recommend that you visit the “Actions outside of Facebook” page, which is also located under “Your Facebook Information”. Here you will find information about third-party sites and services that send information about you to Facebook, you can see what information they share specifically (section “Manage information about activities outside of Facebook”), and you can also delete it (section “Clear history”).

How to delete information about yourself from Instagram

Instagram is part of Facebook’s media empire, so their terms of storage, use, and administration of user data are much the same. You can view, download and – in some cases – clear information about your activities within the service. Most of the features for managing your Instagram details are concentrated in the “Security” section of the “Settings” menu.

Under “Data access” you can see what information the social network has collected about you. Not all data can be deleted, but information from the “Account Activity” section can and should be cleared.

Figure 1: User data collected by Instagram

The “Apps and Sites” menu item contains information about third-party services related to Instagram. If you used your account information to log in to another site, its owners may have access to some information from your profile. We recommend auditing your connected services and deleting those that you no longer use.

Instagram stores and uses your search history for personalization purposes. This information is involved in the formation of the smart feed and the display of targeted ads. You can view the relevant data and clear it in the Search History section.

To download an archive of all the data Instagram has accumulated about you, you need to go to “Download Data”, enter the email address where the link will be sent, and click on “Request File”. Interestingly, you can specify any email account as the recipient, not just the one associated with your profile. To verify the request, Instagram will prompt you to enter a valid password for your account.

How to remove information about yourself from Twitter

Twitter, like Facebook, collects a lot of information about you in order to manage smart feeds (posts based on your preferences) and target ads. Deleting or preventing some of this information from being saved can have an impact on these services; keep this in mind when changing your privacy settings on Twitter.

You can download the data the social network has accumulated about you; this will allow you to understand what personal information Twitter stores, as well as have an archive of posts and photos published. To request a download, follow these steps:

  • Open the “Settings and Privacy” section of the main menu.
  • Select “Your Account” and click “Download Archive of Your Data”.
  • Click the “Request Archive” button in the “Twitter Data” section.

After the social network generates an archive with information about you, a link to download it will be sent to the email specified in your account.

Unfortunately, you can remove all the information about yourself from Twitter only when deleting your profile, and in this case you have to rely on the honesty of the service. However, you can set up the privacy of your account to reduce the amount of information about your activities stored by the social network. To do this, go to “Settings and Privacy” on the main menu and select “Privacy and Security.

There are four important privacy-related sections in the “Providing Data and Actions Outside of Twitter” section:

  • “Advertising Preferences.” This is where information about your interests is stored, based on which Twitter displays ads. You can either turn off ad personalization entirely or uncheck individual items. Flip through the “Interests” list – I’m sure you’ll find some unexpected topics there.
  • “Actions outside of Twitter.” The social network can follow you not only when you’re browsing your feed, but also when you visit third-party sites – for example, if someone else’s tweets are embedded in their pages. Twitter also collects data about your devices and browsers to personalize the content you show. If you don’t want so much attention on your person, turn off these features.
  • “Providing data to business partners.” We recommend unchecking the “Allow sharing additional information with business partners” option to prevent potential disclosure of sensitive information to you.
  • “Location Information. Open the “Visited Locations” section and clear the list of locations saved there. Additionally, we recommend that you prevent Twitter from tracking and saving your location altogether – you can do this in the mobile app. In this way, information about your movements will be protected from possible leaks.

To complete the process of deleting redundant data about yourself on Twitter, look at the “Security and account access” section, which is also located in the “Settings and Privacy” menu. Here you can edit the list of applications that are associated with your account – for example, used its credentials for authorization.

Conclusions

The most effective way to remove data from social networks is to delete the account completely. Theoretically, a month after you deactivate your profile, all the data associated with it should be erased from the servers of the company that owns the service. In practice, this doesn’t always happen. If 30 days after deleting your account you find out that your information is still being used by the social network, you should contact its support service with a letter revoking your consent to personal information processing, and if this does not help, write a complaint to Rospotrebnadzor.

However, account deletion is a drastic measure. In the vast majority of cases, information about a user’s actions in a social network is used to make the user more comfortable with the service. Find a balance between a comfortable level of privacy and using the possibilities of the site for communication and entertainment will help you find simple rules of information hygiene:

  • Register only with the services you intend to use. Don’t create “dead” accounts – leave fewer digital fingerprints of your identity on third-party resources.
  • Keep your profile information to a minimum – consider whether or not you should provide your date of birth or place of residence. The rules of the service may allow an alias instead of a real name and an abstract avatar instead of a photo.
  • Set your privacy settings so that as few of your activities as possible are logged by the service. Disable access of the mobile social networking app to your geolocation, disable integration with the list of contacts on your phone, cancel saving your search history.
  • Regularly check the status of these settings so that the social network doesn’t unilaterally change your privacy level. Regularly download and check the data collected by the social network about you. That way you can control how much of it you have, and save important information in case you lose your account.
  • Install browser extensions that limit the ability of websites to track your actions. For example, there is a special Facebook Container plugin for Firefox that prevents the social network from following you on other resources.

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