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How to detox from Facebook

Rob Pegoraro
Contributing Editor
Feeling overwhelmed by Facebook saturation? Here’s how to cut back on your dependence on the social network. Reuters: Dado Ruvic

The tech company we seem to complain about the most is also the hardest to quit, and it’s all our friends’ fault.

Yes, it’s Facebook (FB). The social network that seems to exhibit a remorseless appetite for our data and our time, can get so eerily accurate with its ads that people suspect its mobile apps eavesdrop on their conversations, and has run up a history of too-little-too-late responses to scandals like the Cambridge Analytica data heist.

But with 2.3 billion active members, Facebook has become difficult to escape. Telling people to log off from the place where many of your favorite people share their baby and vacation photos and recount their high and low points is a lot harder than changing cloud-storage services.

With comprehensive privacy rules apparently marooned on policy activists’ wish lists, it can be easy to feel like a serf on Facebook’s land. But you can take steps on your own—both in Facebook’s apps and in your browsers—to curb its demands on your time and its ability to track you around the web.

Fewer distractions

Facebook’s mobile apps have their uses. They let you read updates from friends offline and make securing your browser logins with two-step verification easy. But they can also be too thirsty for your attention when they ping you with one notification after another.

Those nagging notifications may get you to spend more time on Facebook, which boosts the social network’s value to advertisers. But overdosing on Facebook can be overwhelming, so start turning them off.

In both the iOS and Android apps, select Settings from the main menu, then scroll down to Notification Settings to regulate how much the app can nag you about various developments on the social network.

Set all of them except “Activity About You” to In-App Only. This way, you’ll only get a push notification to your phone’s home screen when somebody responds to your update or tags you in a post. For everything else, you’ll receive a notification when you open the app. Unfortunately, for Groups, you’ll have to change this setting one group at a time.

You can also disable individual notifications when they appear in the app by tapping the menu icon in the top right corner of the notification.

If you use Android, you can even uninstall Facebook’s app entirely in favor of its mobile-web site and still get your most important notifications pushed from there to your phone. But taking that step in iOS will leave you out of the loop, as mobile Safari doesn’t support those push notifications.

Fewer friends, less tracking

Reducing Facebook’s role in your online life can also require culling your Friends list. Cutting out people you only know vaguely, like the person you briefly spoke to at a work party and never talked to again, will free your News Feed from unwanted noise.

You can also file away more distant connections as Acquaintances. This is a special category of “friends” who are less likely to appear in your News Feed.

You should also get in the habit of avoiding Facebook’s “People You May Know” suggestions. The feature has a history of suggesting you friend people you don’t know based on signals that Facebook seems unable to document clearly.

There are two other Facebook relationships you should drop.

One is the option, enabled by default, to have ads reflect your activity outside of Facebook. To change this, open Settings, scroll down to Ads Settings and change “Ads based on data from partners” (as in, those reflecting your activity on other sites) and “Ads based on your activity on Facebook Company Products that you see elsewhere” (ads on other sites based on what you do on Facebook) to “Not Allowed.”

The other is its option to log into other sites with your Facebook account. This saves you from having to create and maintain a separate account there, but it also lets the other site see at least your basic Facebook info and provides another way for Facebook to track you elsewhere.

Using a password-manager app such as LastPass or Dashlane instead will help secure your accounts everywhere, not just at sites welcoming Facebook Login. To see the logins you’ve linked to Facebook, go to the Apps and Websites category of your settings.

Upgrade your browser

If you use a Mac, iPhone or iPad, the next big software update from Apple (AAPL) will severely restrict Facebook’s ability to track you online. In macOS Mojave, Safari will automatically block Facebook’s Like and Share buttons that adorn many sites.

Mojave won’t run on as many Macs as the current High Sierra, but if Apple sticks to precedent it will ship a standalone update to Safari for High Sierra with the same features.

If you use Windows instead of a Mac, your next-best option is a free extension to the Firefox browser called Facebook Container, which was released in March. Installing this erases Facebook’s cookies from your browser, then confines your Facebook activity to a walled-off part of Firefox.

The Container extension lets you click on links shared on Facebook (it opens them outside the container, so Facebook can’t follow your activity there) and share pages on Facebook. But Facebook Like buttons and Facebook comments on other sites will stop working with this extension active.

All of these steps should leave you with a Facebook that occupies less of your mental processor cycles and knows less about you. You might also find that once trimmed down to size, Facebook functions better in its original role: a place to keep up with friends.

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Email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.