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How to use Facebook's new data privacy tools

For some users who already left Facebook, the company's latest offering may be too little, too late.
by Alyssa Newcomb /
Image: A sign is seen at the entrance to Facebook's corporate headquarters
A sign is seen at the entrance to Facebook's corporate headquarters location in Menlo Park, California on March 21, 2018.Josh Edelson / AFP - Getty Images

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Facebook is trying to correct course after a major data harvesting scandal by giving the social network's 2 billion users an easier way to manage their data.

The company announced a suite of new, more intuitive privacy controls Wednesday morning, including a way to download and delete data, a redesigned settings menu, and additional shortcuts for controlling private information.

"Most of these updates have been in the works for some time, but the events of the past several days underscore their importance," said Facebook's vice president and chief privacy officer Erin Egan and Ashlie Beringer, vice president and deputy general counsel, in a blog post.

The release of the new tools comes as Facebook grapples with questions about user privacy and how it handles your personal data.

Downloading and deleting user data

Over the past week, many Facebook users have been downloading their data, and in the process, reliving old messages with exes, seeing phone numbers of people they had forgotten about and learning how Facebook lets advertisers target them.

That trove of data is unwieldy and can be as much as 400,000 Word documents. Now, Facebook wants to make the process of managing a user's data more streamlined through a portal called "Access Your Information."

Image: A screen grab showing how to access your security information on facebook
Courtesy Facebook

Users will be able to see their every action on Facebook and decide if they want to delete it. That includes every like, message, event response, and any other mundane action on Facebook that could be used to profile a person.

The idea is to make it more useful for people to take control of their information, allowing them to see what Facebook has collected — and to wipe the slate clean, if they so choose.

A single screen for settings

Settings can be a tricky and less-than-intuitive place for users to navigate. Facebook's mobile settings were previously spread across nearly 20 screens, but will now be condensed into one.

Users will be able to jump right into their personal information or change their password in the security section, among other actions, instead of going through layers to find the one setting they really need.

Image: comparison of facebook security settings on the app
Courtesy Facebook

Privacy shortcuts

This is Facebook's one-stop shop for finding more information about privacy, security and ads. Privacy shortcuts have been around for a few years (you may recall the cartoon dinosaur mascot Facebook attached to them).

The Privacy Shortcuts menu is also getting a simplified makeover to make the experience more visual and easier to navigate.

This is the menu where users can manage their audiences for various posts and review friend requests they've sent, posts they've reacted to, and other actions, all with just a few taps. Don't like something? Facebook will let users delete it here.

The revised menu also provides some practical security options, enabling users to turn on two-factor authentication, which requires them to enter a code sent to their phone when they log in from a new device, creating an extra layer of security.

Facebook says the new tools are just the start. In the coming weeks, they're planning other measures to be more transparent, including an updated policy about the data they collect and how it is used, along with proposed updates to Facebook's terms of service that underscore the social network's commitments to its users.

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