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What you can do to protect your personal data on Facebook

More than 2 billion users are active on Facebook each month. But as the tech giant again faces scrutiny over who is using that personal data, and how, many users are wondering how safe their information is, or whether they should use the app at all.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg issued a public apology Wednesday following reports last week that the analytics firm Cambridge Analytica violated the site’s policies by improperly obtaining and using data from 50 million users via a Facebook app in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. elections.

Facebook said the firm and its parent company also lied about having destroyed the data when executives asked them to.

“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you,” Zuckerberg said in a post on his own Facebook page Wednesday, his first public comments about the controversy.

I want to share an update on the Cambridge Analytica situation — including the steps we've already taken and our next…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Some consumers have jumped onto the hashtag #DeleteFacebook, pledging to leave the platform. But short of quitting Facebook for good, what else can you do to protect yourself?

How to check your privacy settings on Facebook:

On the blue bar at the top of Facebook, click the downward-pointing carrot

Click on “settings” in the drop-down menu that appears. This will take you to your account settings.

On the left, there are several places where you can check your settings:

Privacy: You can look at who can see anything you post in the future

Timeline and Tagging: Under this menu, you can adjust settings related to your profile timeline, including who is allowed to post on your timeline, who can see those posts and whether you want to review posts you are tagged in.

Blocking: Here, you can choose to block apps (such as Candy Crush or FarmVille) and app requests from certain friends.

Ads: You see how Facebook categorizes you to advertisers, which advertisers you’ve interacted with and make choices about which ad topics you want hidden.

After you’ve taken a look at these items, you can also run a privacy checkup.

In the blue bar at the top of Facebook, click on the question mark.

Select “privacy checkup” in the drop-down menu that appears. Go through each of the steps, including:

Posts: Check the default settings of who sees your posts — anyone with or without a Facebook profile, all of your Facebook friends, etc.

Apps: See what apps you’ve logged into using Facebook. Click on each one of the apps to see what information you give it, check who can see that you use this app, etc.

Profile: Check on the accuracy of your profile and who you’ve allowed to see this information.

Still want to delete or deactivate your Facebook account?

The company provides instructions on how. In the case of deleting your account, the company indicates that “it may take up to 90 days from the beginning of the deletion process to delete all of the things you’ve posted.”

Deactivating your Facebook account removes your name and photos from the site, but you the retain the option of reactivating your account.

Before beginning the deletion or deactivation process, Facebook suggests downloading a copy of your information from your account. Here’s where you can begin either deleting or deactivating your Facebook account.

But even all of these steps may not be enough to protect yourself, Sam Lester of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) said in a Facebook Live with the PBS NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan on Wednesday.

Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and your privacy settings

WATCH: Hari Sreenivasan discussed how you can check your Facebook privacy settings and talked to Sam Lester of the EPIC – Electronic Privacy Information Center about the recent news involving Cambridge Analytica and the data of 50 million Facebook users.

Posted by PBS NewsHour on Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Lester noted that Facebook settled with the Federal Trade Commission in 2011 on charges that it misled users about information privacy. Among the findings by the FTC: “Facebook represented that third-party apps that users’ installed would have access only to user information that they needed to operate. In fact, the apps could access nearly all of users’ personal data – data the apps didn’t need.”

But EPIC and other consumer groups say Facebook may have violated that order through its work with Cambridge Analytica. They are urging the FTC to look into whether Facebook followed the consent order.

Until then, here are some other resources to help you check your Facebook privacy:

Courtney Norris contributed reporting.

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