Facebook has been hit with a barrage of privacy complaints in recent weeks and, while the company responded by streamlining the Facebook privacy controls with effect from 26 May 2010, there are still some things you need to consider in order to ensure that you don’t over-share your personal information.
This post will look at the top ways you can protect your privacy when using the world’s most popular social network.
Watch what you post
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Or it used to. Nowadays, what happens in Vegas is posted on Facebook for all to see. It really doesn’t matter how much Facebook privacy options improve or how much time you spend scrutinizing those options, it would be a big mistake to assume that the information you post will stay within your network. Whether because of a Facebook issue such as the recent chat bug or because of over-sharing friends who do not value your Facebook privacy as much as you do, there is always a possibility that what you post will end up being read by people you never expected.
Consequently, you should think long and hard prior to posting disparaging comments about your boss, photos of yourself sunbathing in the nude (you may be perfectly content to share them now, but will you still feel the same way when you’re elected President?) or any other material that you wouldn’t be happy to share with all the world – either now or in the future!
Watch who’s accessing your account
Should somebody succeed in hacking your Facebook account, then your privacy will have been completely compromised. Protecting your account with a strong password will reduce the chances of it happening, but how can you tell if somebody has managed to gain unauthorized access to your account? Justin outlined an extremely easy way to do just that in his post How To Find Out If Your Facebook Account Has Been Hacked. While the method certainly isn’t foolproof, it’s nonetheless a big step in the right direction.
Limit the information in your profile
Facebook enables you to create and share a very detailed profile that includes everything from your birthday, street address, telephone and cell numbers and employment history -in other words, information that may help somebody steal your identity. Sure, it may seem unlikely – and maybe it is unlikely – that your account will be hacked by an identity thief or that your profile information will be exposed to the world as a result of a Facebook bug, but why take the risk? The best option is to enter only the information that people will need to be able to find and connect with you – assuming you want people to be able to do that – and to use the privacy settings to restrict what you share (see below).
Use the privacy settings
As mentioned at the start of the post, Facebook have at long last given a much needed overhaul to their privacy settings – settings that were previously so complex as to cause some people to resort to using third-party tools such as ReclaimPrivacy and SaveFace to check that they were not sharing more information than they realized. The overhaul sees the Facebook privacy settings consolidated and summarized on a single page – accessed by clicking Account > Privacy Settings – which makes it much easier to see what’s being kept private, what’s being shared with your network and what’s being shared beyond your network. The privacy page also makes it easy to accept – or restore – Facebook’s recommended default settings or to apply your own custom settings.
How much information you choose to share is a personal choice and may depend on factors such as the type of material you post, whether you accept work contacts as friends and whether you use lists (more on lists later in the post).
Note, however, that access to your information is not limited to humans: certain applications and websites can access it too. And you don’t have to be actually using an application in order for it to be able to collect data – if one of your buddies is using a particular application, that application may be able to access your information. Click Edit your settings to access this screen:
And then check the settings under each section – What you’re using, Game and application activity, Info accessible through your friends and Instant personalization – to make sure that you’re not sharing more information that you’re comfortable sharing. Pay particular attention to the section Info accessible through your friends as you’ll note that a considerable amount of data is shared by default:
Again, there are no hard and fast rules as to what information you should or should not share – it all depends on how you use Facebook and your personal preferences. That said, given the risks associated with over-sharing information, it’s probably wise not to share more than you would if using the Facebook’s recommended settings.
Use per-post privacy settings
Facebook enables you to apply per-post rules. Click on the padlock icon below the message composition box and you’ll be presented with options which enable you to specify whether a post will be visible to friends, friends of friends or everyone:
Further, the Customize option enables you to hide a post from certain people. This feature may be useful for relatively minor matters – organizing a surprise party for somebody, say – but don’t rely on it when it comes to important stuff (you may think that something should be kept private, but one of your friend’s may feel differently!).
Organize your contacts into groups
As described in an earlier post about Facebook privacy, you can use lists to place your contacts into groups. However, as with the per-post privacy settings, don’t assume that this will necessarily keep your posts confidential (mistakes are easy to make and you don’t want to discover that you forgot to add the boss you’ve been bad-mouthing to your “work” list!).
The bottom line
Common sense is the most vital tool when using Facebook and there are two key risks that you need to consider:
- Identity theft. There is no good reason to enter your street address, telephone numbers, work information, etc., etc., etc. into Facebook. It’s asking for trouble. Don’t do it.
- Embarrassment. Ill-considered Facebook posts have cost people their jobs. If you wouldn’t want something to be broadcast to the world, don’t post it to Facebook. It’s a simple as that.
I hope these Facebook privacy tips have taught you to be a smarter, savvier Facebook user. Stay safe!