Most of the social media sites offer privacy policies and settings to help protect your personal data from being exploited, but you should always remember that those controls provide limited protection. The better you understand those controls, the better you control your privacy.
Facebook in particular has a large number of privacy settings, which can be confusing for the average user. They break down into some simple categories: general, friend-group based, postings on your wall from various Facebook applications, external applications, and blocking.
|Grouping Friends||Phishing, Hacking and Malware|
|Instant Personalization||Deleting Your Account|
|Facebook Ads||Official Facebook Links|
|Wall Posts and Applications||Facebook Places|
General Privacy Settings
General privacy settings include your username and real name, your contact information, and other general "biographical" information. You can choose whether to enter information in some of these fields, and in the required fields you can control (to some extent) who can see this information about you.
To change the settings for events you choose to attend (or not attend!), look under Account > Application Settings > Events > Settings > Privacy, and then change the setting to the permissions you desire.
However, certain information is always visible to everyone and cannot be hidden. This includes real name, profile picture, gender, and networks. Anyone searching Facebook can learn this information about you, and if you do not exempt yourself from Google searching (see below), it can be found on Google as well. Facebook offers this explanation of your general privacy settings.
Other links for general privacy topics:
- Facebook walk-throughs of various privacy areas, with FAQs
- Facebook blog post about the newest privacy settings (5/27/2010)
- Facebook video about privacy settings (includes brief mentions of public search engines, and how to block people/applications)
- This Facebook video has information about opting out of public search engines, at the 1:53 mark.
Grouping Your Friends for Privacy
One of the best ways to control the access to what you post on Facebook is to section your Friends list off into distinct groups. Common groups include Work, Family, Friends, and Friends of Friends. You can then use the Facebook privacy controls to limit access to your information by group -- for example, the Work group can be prevented from reading your status updates, the Friends of Friends group can be prevented from seeing the photos you upload, and so on. This allows you to have people from work and social contacts both on your Facebook friends list, without sharing content inappropriate to the workplace with those who might not want to see it.
As a caution, remember that mistakes can always happen, and there is rarely true privacy on the internet. Post with caution!
- This is the Facebook FAQ on Friends List and Limiting Your Profile.
- After you have grouped your friends, there is a section of this video (after the 3:30 mark) which will show you how to change your settings to limit access to various information according to those groups you created.
- This link will allow you to change the privacy of your photos and photo albums, once you've created your friend groups.
- Here is a Facebook video on sharing and privacy, with slightly more detail than the general privacy video. Just after the 2:00 mark, it describes how to limit access to posted material as you are making a post.
Facebook has partnered with some other popular social media sites to offer personalized interconnected experiences for users who visit multiple platforms, by sharing your public information with these partners. You see this with a blue bar across the top of the site, inviting you to take advantage of the program.
You can opt out of this by visiting your Privacy Settings, the Applications and Websites section, and editing the Instant Personalization area to turn off the feature.
- This Facebook video includes discussion of Instant Personalization, just after the 1:10 mark.
You may notice that Facebook offers advertisements in the right column of your Facebook page from time to time. And you may notice that it lists which of your friends have "liked" a particular advertisement! You can turn off these options.
Under Account Settings, look at the tabs at the top. Choose Facebook Ads. At the top of the page is one toggle to allow/disallow third-party ads from using information about you in crafting advertisements. You can choose to show that information to "no one", then save your changes. (Facebook indicates that this option is not currently in use, but it never hurts to opt out in advance!)
But don't stop there. Scroll down to the second setting! This controls the social ads shown by Facebook. You can choose to show your interaction with Facebook ads to "no one", and then save your changes.
This Facebook FAQ has more information on Facebook Ads.
Wall Postings and Facebook Application Postings
Ever log on to Facebook and find your feed full of posts from various games and applications that your friends play? You can exclude those messages without hiding the more relevant posts that your friends make directly. Hover over the posting by the game, and you will see a "Hide" button appear to the right of the post. Click it. A popup appears with options for what you could hide -- choose the game, and you'll never see another post by that particular game, from any friend, in your news feed again!
You can also choose to block posts by groups to your news feed -- you may wish to be a member of a particular group or a fan of a particular page, but not want their postings to appear in your news feed. Do the same thing, hover over the posting, and click "Hide". Choose to hide the group or page.
You can always change those settings back -- down at the bottom of your news feed is a link to "Edit Options".
Did you know that your friends can share information about you with applications they install, whether or not you have the application installed? This Facebook video offers tips on how to control what information is shared with applications.
Introduced in August 2010, this feature allows you to tag yourself with a location in your Facebook posts. It's similar to FourSquare and other Twitter-location applications. However, there's a twist -- others can tag you as being at a location too, whether you're there or not!
To adjust your Places settings, click on the Account tab at the top right and click Privacy Settings. Select the little blue "customize settings" towards the bottom of the screen that appears.
- You'll see a list of privacy options. Under the Things Others Share category, disable "Friends can check me in to Places." Now, only you can broadcast your location.
- You can also choose who can see your check-ins. Click the "Places I check in" pulldown under the Things I Share category. The default is "friends only." Selecting "Customize" brings up a pop-up where you can exclude entire networks, individual people, or everyone.
- Finally, you may want to disable the "People Here Now" feature under the Things I Share category . "People Here Now" allows any user checked in at a location to see who else is checked in there—even if they're not friends. Make sure the box is unchecked next to "Include me in 'People Here Now' after I check in."
B locking People and Applications
This Facebook video has information on blocking people and applications, at the 2:20 mark.
Phishing, Hacking, and Malware
Did you get a Facebook message from a friend that said something like, "Hey, check out this video of me!"? Chances are, that was a spam email designed to deliver malware to your account and computer. If you don't recognize the sender, the subject line seems suspect, or there is no reason for them to send you the link... delete the message without opening it. This video has tips on bogus Facebook messages (just after the 5:15 mark).
Never give out your Facebook password or login information. Treat it as carefully as you would your personal email and banking accounts.
Deleting Your Facebook Account
If you decide to delete your Facebook account, the process isn't as easy as you might think. Here's a walk-through of the steps required.
Official Facebook Links