Facebook-safe or facebook-sorry?

How to protect your security and privacy on Facebook

Of all the criticisms facing Facebook, the biggest one is security. Concerns range from criminal activity like identity theft to the more mundane but immediate problem of accidentally sharing information with people you don’t like. Remember the disastrous Beacon system that harvested user information from external websites to publish on users’ newsfeeds? Luckily, it was short-lived. Meanwhile, more and more newspapers seem to be grabbing both images and status updates from Facebook profiles to include with news stories. Maybe try to avoid this.

How’s your security intelligence? The first step that everyone should take is to see how your profile appears to strangers. Go to your profile’s privacy settings. Then, under ‘Connecting on Facebook’, click View Settings. In the top right corner there should be a little button labelled ‘Preview my Profile’. That’s the one you want.

Questions to ponder

1.Would you be upset if any of the photos in your albums are seen by the general public? Friends of friends? Your ‘Facebook friends’? Family members? 2.Would any of your public status updates or photos affect your future employment? 3.Are you comfortable with your Facebook friends seeing the pages that you are a fan of? Is it wise to have clicked “I like” on Sexy Septuagenarians?

I’m a very public person, and don’t mind sharing information and pieces of my life even with strangers, but even I’m surprised at how open people leave their profiles. While people have started to remember to put privacy settings on their photo albums, they usually forget to control the photos and videos in which they’re tagged. Those photos scanned by a university friend of your faux-hawk, that other of you in drag? Is that the face you want to show to the world?

People threaten to leave Facebook. The better option is to learn how to control your privacy settings and make sure you’ve activated security measures. How much privacy you want will depend on how much of an extrovert you are, whether you’re in a profession (like teaching, law, or stealing cars) where you might want to hide out, and how paranoid you are.

A guide

You use Facebook to connect with strangers with shared pastimes (knitting, fantasy football), and you use Facebook for a business venture you’ve started recently. You don’t mind having a public profile.

  • Share your contact information and websites so people know something about you.
  • Allow public and Facebook searches for your profile.
  • But don’t share the year of birth online, review your security for signing onto Facebook from other computers, and consider creating groups so you can target who you share information and photos with.

You’re a super-social person. You like making new friends and reconnecting with old ones. You’ve used Facebook to explore dating or at least check out whether that hottie at the party you went to is single

  • Set most of your settings so that “friends of friends” can see them
  • Keep your friend lists public, as well as the pages you’re a fan of
  • Consider if you need to create groups for your different networks, and whether there are some groups that you specifically want to share more of your life with

You use Facebook mainly to connect with a small groups of friends and family, and are pretty much a private person.

  • Set most of your settings to “friends” only
  • Review any information on your profile for how public it is

You’re worried about privacy and security issues. You work in a job where you don’t want clients or students to contact you. You prefer to see your friends in person anyways.

  • Consider creating an identity without your real name
  • Don’t post photos of you and your family as your profile picture. Make sure your other photos can only be seen by those who you’ve chosen.
  • Disable letting your friends post on your wall.
  • Under customize privacy settings, review ‘things I share’, and ‘things others share’, and set custom settings to “only me” so no one else sees this information.

Privacy and Security Tips:

1. Don’t Flaunt Your Privates in Public You have the choice about what information is made public. The worst thing to do is to put your birthday including year of birth, up on your profile. It would be candy for an identity thief. Some people I know even put false birthdays up, but why confuse your friends and miss out on birthday wishes? Private information also includes your address, phone number and e-mail addresses. If someone wants to get a hold of you, they can always send a Facebook message to you (unless of course, you’ve blocked strangers from doing that too!)

2. Make groupies Under “friends” and then “manage friends”, you’ll find the option to “create a list”. This is a versatile function that people don’t use enough. You can create lists for family members, sports teams, school friends, work mates, and close friends. Conversely, you could create lists for ‘people I friended but would rather not share my life with’, ‘children of friends who shouldn’t have Facebook profiles’, and ‘people who make so many posts and comments that I’ve gotten annoyed with them’. While I know one or two friends who have created separate profiles for their personal and professional lives, I think making groups is an easier option.

3. Sort it out! The next step then is to use these groups and set privacy levels on all areas of your profile. You can set privacy for each photo album, meaning that you could restrict the album only to people who were on that drunken weekend… You can use it so only your family members will see the photos from your grandmother’s 80th birthday. You can also exclude an entire group or specific individuals from viewing. Post up those party pics, but exclude those who weren’t invited!

4. How easily do you want to be found? For some, a joy of Facebook is being tracked down by old friends. For others, it’s hell. If you don’t want to easily be found, there are two main settings to toggle. First of all, Facebook created the “public search listing” in 2007 which means that your profile appears in search engines like Google. It’s a bit hard to find this to turn it off. Go to ‘privacy settings’, then under ‘Apps and Websites’ click ‘Edit your settings’. THEN go to ‘Public Search’ and make sure that there’s no checkmark next to ‘Enable Public Search.’ Another way of limiting people finding you is also under ‘privacy settings’. Click ‘view settings’ under ‘Connecting on Facebook’. Then under ‘Search for you on Facebook’, you can allow ‘everyone’ to find you, ‘friends of friends’, or ‘friends only’.

5. Assume an identity If you’re not inclined to having a public profile, then you could opt for more private options. One way to do it is to change your Facebook name. Some people shorten their surname to an initial, others use middle instead of last names. A few make up a complete new pseudonym. It would help not to blow your cover with a picture of you. Instead use as your profile photo: a flower, a landscape scene, a blurred photo with no recognisable facial features, or a random cartoon character.

6. Papa-paparazzi Facebook feeds on voyeurs. I’m one. I’m not alone. So, it surprises me how few people have set privacy options on their photos. If you’re really worried about your privacy, then you want only your ‘friends’ to see your photo albums (and photos), or go a step beyond that and decide which ‘groups’ (see above) have access to each one. You can do this album by album (click on ‘edit album’) but Facebook has made it easier these days. Go to the Privacy Tab and customize your settings under ‘sharing on Facebook’. At the bottom of ‘things I share’, you can Edit privacy settings for existing photo albums and videos.

Just below that is ‘things others share’. Ever been caught in the dastardly circumstance of being tagged in friend’s photos, and having that photo posted on your friends’ walls and newsfeeds? Here’s your chance to change the setting and prevent it happening again.

7. Breaking up is hard to do In the early days of Facebook, one of the most amusing, appalling and confusing aspects was reading about your friends’ changing relationship status. Very few of them actually wanted to announce to the world that they had just broken up (on the flipside, people are happier to announce getting together with someone). “Are you OK?” I asked an old school friend, who’d gone from “in a relationship” to “single”. She replied that she’d been divorced three years but never updated her status.

I propose that unless you’re actively using Facebook to advertise your relationship status, keep it private. Go to the privacy page and customize your settings under ‘sharing on Facebook’. Then change who can see your relationship status to “only me.”

8. Up your security Particularly for those who use their laptops in public places and while travelling, thanks to the program FireSheep, any geek can steal your password (which also has implications if you use the same password for other accounts). Go to your profile’s account settings, and then click ‘Change’ on Account Security. You want to be browsing Facebook on a secure server whenever possible (https). A login notification when an unrecognised computer or device tries to access your account is also pretty useful. Going a step beyond that and requiring a security code to be sent to your phone before signing into your account is probably overkill – but if someone’s hacked into your account, use it!

9. Keep monitoring for changes

Facebook changes with the season – for good or bad. Keep alert for more updates (or articles like this one). Facebook went through a phase where it looked like things were getting worse and worse. In April 2010, they reported that a user's name, hometown, education, work, and "likes" and "dislikes" had always been permanently public, and they were going to add to the list users’ profile photo, gender, and current city. Mid 2011, new facial recognition technology made it easier to tag friends in photos and caused a new wave of concern. But they’ve also made improvements: account security has improved since January 2011 with improved secure connections (see #8 above) even though they should make this the default instead of opt-in. The take-home message? Keep on your toes.

What are your favourite Facebook privacy or security tips?

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