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Garth Callaghan

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Five Ways to Protect Your Privacy on Facebook

WGarth Callaghan

Facebook is notorious for changing privacy settings fairly often without any warning to its users. Sometimes it is difficult to stay on top of the latest settings and keep your information as private as you would like. I recommend going though all of your account and privacy settings every couple of months, but even if you try to do this it can be hard to navigate through the labyrinth of pages to get to that one setting you might be looking for. In this post I will highlight a few settings that I believe are important. You may not agree with every one of my choices because everyone might have a different opinion as to how social networks should be used. I hope, though, that you will at least take these options into consideration.

1) Secure Browsing: To be honest, I'm not sure why anyone wouldn't use this option. By enabling Secure Browsing, you make your Facebook sessions safer by using an encrypted connection, making it more difficult for someone to hack into your account when using a public internet connection. You can see that this setting is active by looking at the URL any Facebook page you have open: if the URL begins in "https" it is enabled, if it begins with "http" it is not.


Where to find it: Account (upper right of screen) -> Account Settings (in drop-down menu) -> Security (on left of screen) -> Secure Browsing (click "Edit")

2) Public Search: If Public Search is enabled, people are able to find your Facebook profile (and even some photos from your profile) through search engines around the web. Some people may not mind being found this way, but people who use Facebook purely as a way to communicate with friends and family might not want to be publicly indexed and identified by Google or Yahoo. If you fall into the latter category, you will want to disable this setting.


Where to find it: Account (upper right of screen) -> Privacy Settings (in drop-down menu) -> Apps and Websites (click "Edit Settings") -> Public Search (click the "Edit Settings" button)

3) Friends Can Check You Into Places: For over a year Facebook has allowed its users to update their friends on their current location, similar to other social networking sites like Foursquare. Judging by this feature's relative popularity, I may be in the minority when I say that this makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I promise I am not writing this blog entry while wearing a tinfoil hat, but I have read enough dystopian future novels to be a little freaked out by a computer knowing exactly where everyone is at all times. Since I, personally, do not feel the need to let the internet know which restaurant or park I'm currently in, the simple solution is for me to never use this feature. The problem with this is that other people can still check you into places themselves. I have turned this setting off so I cannot be tagged in these kinds of posts.


Where to find it: Account (upper right of screen) -> Privacy Settings (in drop-down menu) -> How Tags Work (click "Edit Settings") -> Friends Can Check You Into Places using the mobile Places app

4) Adjusting your profile's privacy: As a Facebook user you can choose to share your information with the whole internet, your friends, or just a select group of people. I like to only share my information with the people who I have accepted as my friends because they are all people who I trust. There used to be a fairly nice way to adjust these settings, but I think they've decided to make it more complicated recently. I'll show you two ways to control who sees what on your profile:

a) There is a global setting to control your Default Privacy, which controls who sees your status updates and photos that you upload. You can let everyone see your posts, only your friends, or a custom list of people -- for example your family and friends, but not your coworkers.


Where to find it: Account (upper right of screen) -> Privacy Settings (in drop-down menu) ->  Control Your Default Privacy

b) As you are editing your profile you can choose who sees each category (hometown, education, music, etc.), so you can make some information more private than others. This is similar to the global setting in that you can select between everyone, friends, or a custom list of people.

Where to find it: Profile (upper right of screen) -> Edit Profile (upper right button) -> Individual buttons to the right of each piece of information (don't forget to click on tabs other than "Basic Information" towards the left of the screen.)

5) How people bring your info to apps they use:
Some Facebook apps that people use (games or other services) can pull information from your profile to "enhance" the user's experience. This is fine if you agree to share your information with this third-party company, but sometimes these apps will pull data from its users' friends who choose to share their information with the friend. If you would still like to share your information with your friends but NOT the companies they interact with you must manually disable this feature.

Where to find it: Account (upper right of screen) -> Privacy Settings (in drop-down menu) -> Apps and Websites (click "Edit Settings") -> How people bring your info to apps they use (click the "Edit Settings" button) -> leave boxes unchecked if you would not like that information shared within apps

BONUS: I will throw in a sixth bonus setting because it is more of a preemptive measure. Facebook basically gives you the choice, if they choose to do this in the future, of opting-out of having your name or picture appear in third-party ads targeted towards your friends. I figure they wouldn't even ask you this if they didn't plan on using this in the future, so if you do not want to be used to endorse something without your approval, make sure to tell them to share your information with no one.


Where to find it: Account (upper right of screen) -> Account Settings (in drop-down menu) -> Facebook Ads (on left of screen) -> Edit third party ad settings


Keep in mind that maintaining strict privacy settings isn't just for people who have something to hide from their bosses or future employers. Being aware of the information you are sharing is important because it could be easy for someone to make assumptions about you based on your interests, religious/political affiliations, or your previous posts that are taken out of context. As I said before, the settings I talked about in this post are only recommendations, and you are free to share as much or as little as you want. All I ask is for you to consider who on the internet is looking at your Facebook profile, and what conclusions they might draw if they do not know you personally.