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Planning a break-up with Facebook, Instagram for good? Here's how to do it

NYT/ 11 Oct 18 | 10:07 AM

Photo: Shutterstock

You may have decided enough is enough: It’s time to delete Facebook.

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There have been months — or is it years now? — of bad news about the social network. Last month, Facebook revealed that a security vulnerability exposed up to 50 million accounts to being hijacked by hackers. Through the vulnerability, a hacker could take over your account — meaning anything you ever posted on Facebook, or even apps that you connected with using your Facebook account, could have been infiltrated.

The company said in a statement that it was investigating the incident and would share updates. “People’s privacy and security is incredibly important, and we’re sorry this happened," the company said Wednesday. “It’s why we took immediate action to secure people’s accounts and fix the vulnerability."

The breach followed a scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, the voter-profiling firm that got its hands on the private data belonging to millions of Facebook users. And maybe you are just tired of the partisan yammering and updates from the six-degrees-of-friends.

I have some firsthand experience with all of this. After the disclosure of Facebook’s breach, I felt my trust in the social network was broken. So I pulled out my data from Facebook and purged the account. What I found out about the process: The more you have integrated Facebook into your life, the more time-consuming it will be to delete it.

To make account deletion as painless as possible, here is a step-by-step guide. I also included steps on breaking up with Instagram, Facebook’s photo-sharing app, for those looking for a cleaner getaway.

Step 1: Assess what you might lose

Before you commit to breaking up with Facebook, it’s important to handicap the potential collateral damage. Some products and services are deeply integrated with Facebook and could become difficult to use without the social networking account.

The quickest way to test the waters is to deactivate your Facebook account, which is essentially an account suspension that can immediately be reversed. To deactivate, you simply click through your settings and select “Manage Your Account." Then click the button marked “Deactivate your account."

When I did that, I noticed I could no longer run Instagram ads to promote my dog’s Instagram account because the advertising tools are directly tied to Facebook. So if you are a business owner who advertises products on Instagram, deleting Facebook would cut off that marketing channel.

Deactivating my account also broke access to apps and websites that I used my Facebook account to sign up for. I found I could no longer easily get into Pinterest because I had used my Facebook account to register for the virtual scrapbooking service. To regain access, I reactivated my Facebook account and then went into my Pinterest settings. Once there, I disconnected the Pinterest account from Facebook and reset my Pinterest password. Then I logged back in to Pinterest with my email address instead.

For other apps, like Spotify and ChefSteps, I similarly disconnected the apps from my Facebook account. Then I reset the passwords for those services to regain access with my email address.

Doing all of that was a pain. But the exercise was worth it to ensure I wouldn’t break my accounts for other sites.

Step 2: Download your data

Now that I knew I could safely delete Facebook, I started pulling my data out of the social network. That means any personal information that I had collected in my account, including my photos, message transcripts and friends list, and that I did not already have copies of elsewhere.

To help with this, Facebook offers a comprehensive tool called Download Your Information, which can be found in the site’s settings. Using this tool, you can decide what types of data you want to grab.

I requested a copy of all my data. Facebook took about an hour to assemble all the information into one file that measured about 700 megabytes. The file took about 10 minutes to download, and the information was organized into folders for different types of data, like photos, search history and messages.

Pulling your information off Facebook doesn’t mean you are removing it from the company’s servers, though. More on that in a bit.

Step 3: Hit the delete button

After making sure I had a copy of all the Facebook data I cared about, it was time to do the deed. In Facebook’s settings menu, I clicked the button “Your Facebook information" and then clicked “Delete Your Account and Information."

Finally, I clicked on the blue “Delete Account" button. A prompt popped up asking for my password. Then a box showed up warning that deletion was permanent. I wasn’t fazed — and hit the button.

Step 4: Resist getting back together

But wait. After hitting delete, my Facebook account was not actually erased, despite all the hoops I had jumped through. The site said that my account was scheduled for permanent deletion after 30 days, and that if I logged in again, I would have the option to cancel the deletion request.

This grace period is here so people can change their minds. In addition, the entire deletion process may take up to 90 days to purge all backups of your data from the company’s servers, according to Facebook. In other words, be patient.

Step 5: Delete Instagram

If you also want to get away from Facebook’s clutches by removing your Instagram account, that process is much easier. That’s because Instagram is not nearly as wide-reaching as Facebook; you don’t use your Instagram account to log in to other apps, for instance.

Here are the steps: Inside the photo app’s settings, you can select an option to download a copy of your data. From there, Instagram will email a link to download the file. This process took about 10 minutes for my account. Then you can visit the Delete Your Account webpage and click through the buttons to kill your account.

I confess I did not personally follow through with this. I kept my Instagram account because I like keeping in touch with friends there.

Step 6: Ensure there is no tracking

After ending a romantic relationship, have you ever blocked your ex on Facebook so that he or she can’t follow you around? You should do the same after breaking up with Facebook to make sure the site stops tracking your browsing activities.

Be extra thorough about eliminating tracking methods that Facebook and other sites use to follow you. That includes clearing your web cookies, resetting your advertising identifier and installing a tracker blocker. For these steps, follow my previous guide about fighting targeted ads to safeguard your smartphone, tablet or computer.

After I completed these steps myself, there was no sense of closure as I had expected. That’s probably because I knew I might end up reversing the Facebook deletion for the sake of writing instructive articles like this one. I have 30 days to decide.

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