Facebook has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. If you aren't sure what the Cambridge Analytica scandal is all about, this article from the New York Times explains it: https://nyti.ms/2IPc5mz

I listened with interest as Mark Zuckerburg testified before the House Energy & Commerce Committee. One of the themes he stressed was the ability of each user to see what information Facebook has about them and control the use of the data. The degree to which you trust Facebook is another topic for another day.

This article focuses on some easy things you can do right now to improve the security of your information.

Run the "Privacy Checkup"

While logged into Facebook, look at the blue bar at the top of the site. On the right-hand side of that bar is a question mark. Click on it, and then select "Privacy Checkup."

Who do you want to be able to see your posts? If yours says "Public," it's time to change that. "Friends" is the usual setting. Do you hate to "unfriend" someone but don't want that person to see what you post? You'll see a setting to make it happen. Are you a private person and want to greatly restrict who sees your posts? You have that control also.

Which apps have you allowed access to Facebook? Remember the times a site offered to let you "Log in with Facebook" and you chose that option? You will see them listed here.

You will also see any site that you have allowed to post for you. For example, when this article appears on my blog, a service called “If This Then That” will automatically post something on Facebook. That little bit of automation frees me from a routine, mechanical task. The price I pay is that I have to trust Facebook to act responsibly.

The final part of this check is to see who has access to your phone number, email address or birthday. While allowing "Friends" to see your phone number, it's probably not something you want the world to have. One change I made was restricting my hometown from "Public" to "Friends." This whole process will take you less than five minutes.

Look at everything in "Settings"

On the blue bar, just to the right of the question mark, click on the downward-pointing arrow. Toward the bottom of the list is "Settings."

Take a half-hour to click every one of those menus. Look at what you've chosen. Look at the options available. Do you really want the world to see your entire list of friends? Are you being inundated with notifications? Here is where you can fix those.

I was particularly interested in the "Ads" menu item towards the bottom of the list. You'll see what Facebook thinks you are interested in based on what you have clicked. If you see logos that are of no interest, hover the mouse over them and click the "x."

Download all your data

Zuckerberg talked about the ability for users to download everything Facebook knows about them. I decided to give that one a try. The process turned out to be much easier than I had imagined.

Return to the Facebook settings. Look at the first topic on the left sidebar, the one marked "General." One of the items on this page is a place to tell Facebook what to do should you pass away.

Below that is the link you want: "Download a copy of your Facebook data." After supplying your Facebook password, submit the request. Facebook sends an email with a link you'll click to continue the process. Facebook prepares the download and sends an email when it's ready. Click the link in that email to download your data.

What can you expect?

My download took about 5 minutes. The size was a manageable 275MB. The information is contained in a zip file on my desktop. Inside it are four folders: HTML, Messages, Photos, and Videos, plus an Index. Albums seem to be organized in folders within the Photo folder. Each item is labeled with a series of numbers, so you will have to do some hunting to find what you want. The date field is of no help, as it represents the download date, not the date you took the photo.

For the most part, what you see is what you uploaded to Facebook. For example, you won't find a tracking log of sites you visited. Nor will you see mention of others with whom your data has been shared. However, a file called “ads” seems to list the advertisements served up to you during your browsing.

The best reason for the data download is to give you a shot at an organized photo library. Most people are good at taking pictures, but poor at organizing them for the future. Some photos are on their phone. Others are on Facebook. Still others are on Instagram.

If you have been telling yourself, “One day I’ll organize my photos,” now may be your opportunity. The biggest part of the process will be labeling. The individual photos and videos, as well as the folders containing your albums, have only strings of numbers as labels. In another article, I'll talk about my favorite way to store your digital photos.

And, should you ever leave Facebook, you won’t have to worry about losing the photos and videos you uploaded.

Going forward

Is Facebook heroic or is it evil? We are a people who demand both convenience and privacy, and sometimes fail to realize the one interferes with the other.

While Facebook serves up advertisements for the items we scour the Internet to find, we loathe the algorithm that makes it happen. We like "free," but fail to realize that if we are not paying for the product, we become the product.

Today, some people will abandon Facebook. Others will make adjustments to their accounts to make them work better. If you've read this far, you're probably in the second camp. So, let's get started.

Frank Buck is the author of Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders and was named to "Global Gurus Top 30" for 2017 and 2018 in the time management category. He speaks throughout the United States and internationally about organization and time management. You can reach Dr. Buck through his website: FrankBuck.org. Follow him on Twitter @DrFrankBuck.