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A hoax circulated through the Facebook user community a couple of years ago, telling users they could protect their privacy just by adding a simple statement to their Facebook status. Well, that same hoax is back again. You’ve probably seen the magic wording already: “In response to the new Facebook guidelines, I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, professional photos and videos, etc (as a result of the Berner Convention).”

Many of my friends have made this declaration in their status, to which my immediate reaction is: How do they not understand that this won’t keep their information private?” It got me thinking about how much people care about their online privacy yet take no real action to protect it.

In a TEDTalk last year on The End of Privacy, Hasan Elahi said, “You show me your Google history and I will find something embarrassing or incriminating from there in five minutes.” This is why people get scared into adding this bogus copyright statement. They’re worried about what they’ve posted in the past, yet they haven’t been educated on what they can do about it.

In the last several months alone, Facebook has announced changes to how its search works and how its News Feed algorithms will work. It has added new terms and conditions, privacy settings, and ad policies. And it’s a safe bet that there will be more changes coming throughout 2015. That’s a lot to keep up with. Even though people are worried about how the changes might affect them, many don’t know what to do. They just copy and paste these statuses that have no actual effect on their online privacy.

First, let me say that I am not a lawyer. If you’re looking for legal advice on this matter, check out the great write-up in Vice. What I will do is explain what these recent changes to Facebook mean to you and, more importantly, how you can take control of your privacy and security settings.

Step 1: The Basics

At a bare minimum, you should take a couple of minutes to go through Facebook’s Privacy Basics tutorial. The guide will take you through your basic settings, such as choosing your default audience for all posts (friends, public, or custom), which third-party apps have permission to access your Facebook account (and where to find that information for future reference), and what your profile looks like to the public. You may decide you want to remove your Facebook profile from Google search altogether.

Step 2: Enable Timeline Review

This should be included in the basics section, but so many people do not use this feature that I felt it needed its own section. If you don’t turn on Timeline Review in your settings, any of your friends can tag you in a post, in a picture, or in a video, and that post will now be visible to any of your friends to view in your Timeline. While you can always go back and untag yourself from these events, it’s easier (and safer) to set this up in advance, making any tag subject to your approval.

Here’s how to turn Timeline Review on from your computer: Settings > Timeline and Tagging > Review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your Timeline? > Edit > Enabled.

Step 3: Delete Your Search Data

As you’re about to see, Facebook spends a lot of time tracking (and recording) what you search for, where you go (in both real life and on Facebook), and whose profile you view. If that doesn’t seem like information you want stored or anaylzed, start by clearing your Facebook search history. To do this, go to your Timeline and click on your ‘Activity Log’ > Click on the ‘More’ link in the left column > Scroll down and click on ‘Search’ > Click on the ‘Clear Searches’ button.

Step 4: Clear Your Facebook Location History

Last April, Facebook announced a new feature called Nearby Friends, which tracked, stored, and shared your location with anyone who had access to your feed. The description from Facebook states that “When Location History is on, Facebook builds a history of your precise location, even when you’re not using the app.” While you may like to show your friends where you are, this could be done in other ways without turning your phone into a personal tracker for Facebook.

To turn off your Location History, first choose the “More” button on your mobile device’s Facebook app > Select “Nearby Friends” > Tap the small “gear” icon > Choose “Location Settings” > Then switch the location history feature to off.

Next, you’ll want to delete any past locations you’ve visited from your history. To do this, select your “Activity Log” from your desktop computer > Click “More” > Choose “Location History” > Then select “Clear Location History” at the top of the page.

Step 5: Removing Tracking Cookies

The Digital Advertising Alliance’s (DAA) page for the Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising states that:

Some of the ads you receive on Web pages are customized based on predictions about your interests generated from your visits over time and across different Web sites. This type of ad customization — sometimes called “online behavioral” or “interest-based” advertising — is enabled through your computer browser and browser cookies.

While it may seem convenient to receive customized ads, you should realize that the price you’re paying for this small convenience is all that information about where you’ve been on the Internet. To prevent Facebook (and other companies) from getting this very personal information about your online activity, all you have to do is opt out of tracking cookies on the DAA’s site. Once you’ve submitted your request, the DAA will send it to the companies listed on its site. This process will have to be repeated for each browser that you use.

Step 6: Delete Ad Preferences

The main way Facebook makes money is through the ads you see in your News Feed. One of the less discussed aspects of Facebook’s recent changes to what ads are now shown is that you have more control over how your information is shared with these companies. One option when you see an ad that you don’t like is to click on the small drop-down arrow at the top right of the ad and select “Why am I seeing this?” This will bring up an explanation, something you could only guess at in previous versions. It will tell you that you’ve been shown an ad because some company got your email address from somewhere, information that you may find important and something to rectify in the future.

While you’re in that section, you will have the option to manage your current Facebook ad preferences. Facebook keeps all the information you allow it to, such as what pages you visit (and follow), where you’ve been both in real life and online, and other interests that you’ve listed at some point in your history. Unless you want targeted ads, I recommend that you delete all of the ad preferences Facebook has listed for you. This is also a step that you’ll have to repeat in the future as Facebook will begin storing information from you immediately following this action.

So to summarize: Stop posting that damn Facebook status, and do something that will actually protect your privacy!

Ronnie Charrier is Social Media Strategist at Northcutt.

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