There was a time when deleting your Facebook account was a pie-in-the-sky fantasy, but this week’s news might have you thinking twice. In a series of reports, we learned that an employee at Facebook erroneously handed a trove of data to a company called Cambridge Analytics, which in turn used that information to target voters and spread influence ahead of the 2016 election. So we totally understand if you’re having second thoughts about your account.
The good news is, you have options. First you can limit what third-party apps and the Facebook community can see about your account. If that’s not enough, you can deactivate your account, which can be undone, or full-on delete it—and even then, you have a chance to change your mind. Here’s how it works.
Limit your Facebook account
There are plenty of reasons why you wouldn’t want to nuke your Facebook account, but you can still lock it down. The easiest way is to take it private. Head over to Settings, then select the Privacy tab. At the top is a Your Activity window with a drop-down menu. If the “Who can see your posts” option is set to public, that means anyone can see what’s on your page, whether they have a Facebook account or not. Tap the Edit button and you’ll be able to limit view ability to just friends, only specific friends, or just yourself.
You can also limit the data that third-party apps can access. Also in the Settings menu, click on the Apps tab. You’ll see a list of the apps that are connected to your account, which could be dozens or even hundreds if you’ve had an account for a while. Next to each app you’ll see a small “X” in the upper right corner that will remove it from your account. For apps that you want to keep, you can click on the edit button to limit some of its access to your account.
Further down on the page you’ll find an “Apps Others Use” box. Click the edit button and you’ll see a series of checkboxes showing categories of information that your friends are sharing about you. Feel free to uncheck any box that makes you leery.
And finally, there’s ad tracking. Like any other free service (social or otherwise), Facebook makes a trove of money through advertising, but you can limit how much of Audience Network you see (and how much it sees about you). Click on the Ads tab in Settings, and you’ll see a series of options that let you turn off ads based on your app usage and who can see your likes and reposts of ads. You won’t be able to turn off ads altogether, but you will be able to stop Facebook from using your activity to send “interest-based ads” your way.
Deactivate your Facebook account
Deactivating your Facebook account puts it on hiatus. Your profile will be removed from the site, as will most of what you posted to Facebook, though messages and other things will stick around).
Deactivation can be undone. Facebook will retain your data in case you decide to come back. You can always reactivate your account later by logging in to Facebook. If you’re not sure you want to leave permanently, this is a great way to try the Facebook-free life before you make a final decision.
To deactivate your account, log in to Facebook. At the top of your Facebook page, click the down-arrow icon at far right. Choose Settings from the menu that appears, and then on the next screen select General from the list along the left side of the window.
Once there, go to the Manage Account section at the bottom to find the option to deactivate your account. Click Deactivate your account to start the process.
Facebook will try to guilt you into staying by showing you photos of your Facebook friends, and then asking you why you want to deactivate your account.
Once you tell Facebook why you don’t want to be friends anymore, click the Deactivate button, enter your password one last time, and Facebook will proceed to deactivate your account. Remember, you can always go back by logging into Facebook. And if you have an Instagram account that’s hooked up to your Facebook one, you can keep it, but you’ll need to unlink them by going to “Sharing Settings” in the Instagram app.
Delete your Facebook account
Deleting your Facebook account, on the other hand, kills it completely. You won’t be able to log back in to retrieve or view anything you’ve posted to Facebook, and if you want to use Facebook again, you’ll have to start from scratch. You can find all the details if you hit the help icon at the top right of your Facebook account page (it looks like a question mark) and type deactivate account into the search bar that appears. Hit the let us know link in this description to start the deletion process.
(Note: Facebook recommends that you download a copy of the data you’ve published to the site before you delete your account. Open the Settings menu on Facebook as described above, and go to the General page. You’ll find a link at the bottom to download a copy of your Facebook data. Click the link. The service will then guide you through the process of downloading an archive of all your Facebook data.)
Facebook wants to make sure you are who you say you are before it deletes an account, so you’ll have to enter your password and pass a text-recognition test to proceed.
Once you’ve proven you’re not a bot, a Permanently Delete Account dialog box will appear. Take a moment to read the explanation of what’s going to happen. Note the 14-day window to change your mind before your Facebook account is really, truly dead to you.
This is it: If you hit the OK button, Facebook will begin the account deletion process.
If you choose to delete and then change your mind, no problem! All you have to do is log back into Facebook within those 14 days. You’ll see this dialog box where you can cancel the deletion.
Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of an article we originally published on September, 30, 2013.