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An About-Face on Facebook
The privacy concerns associated with online social networking sites have been in the news quite a bit lately. The fingers of blame are being pointed squarely at Facebook, for the most part, as much for it's ubiquitousness as its practices. While I'm happy to leave the question of Facebook's moral obligation to provide privacy to the deontology students, in this column I'm going to cover how you can at least change your privacy settings to reduce your exposure.
The first rule of privacy is never, ever put anything online that you don't want other people to see. As an example I direct your attention to Todd Davis the CEO of LifeLock. A company that purports to make your online identity theft proof. Mr. Davis was so confident of his company's abilities that he posted his social insurance number on billboards. His identity has been stolen at least 13 times since 2007 .
The second rule of privacy is don't put online anything unless you must. To use Facebook effectively, that is to have people find you, you need to have your name online. You probably don't need to put your birthday, religious preference, political affiliation, or anything else up there.
The rest of this column will be best read in front of your computer logged into Facebook.
One note, it is my understanding, as this column is going to press, that Facebook is going to simplify it's currently Byzantine privacy settings, so some of this may be changed by the time you read it.
First we're going to http://ReclaimPrivacy.org to get a nifty button. Look for the [Scan for Privacy] button. Click and drag the button up to your bookmarks bar. Usually that's the bar below your address bar. Now go to Facebook and login. Now go to Privacy Settings – under Account. Now click the [Scan for Privacy] button.
You'll see a section appear at the top of your window with hopefully a bunch of green secure buttons. Any that are not need some work.
A general privacy principal is make everything secure and then relax the security where needed. We'll go through each section making it secure.
Personal Information and Posts: Set everything to [Friends only]. You will probably want to check the Allow friends to post on my wall button. Well, depending on your friends, that is.
Contact Information: Set everything to [Friends only] and set Add me as a friend and Send me a message to [Friends of friends].
Friends, Tags and Connections: Set everything to [Friends only]. If you don't want people tagging you in videos and photos change the Photos and Videos of Me setting to [Only Me].
Search: Change to [Friends of friends]. Uncheck Public Search Results.
Applications and websites: Under What your friends can share about you uncheck everything. Under Activity on Applications and Games Dashboards set to [Friends only]. Under Instant Personalization Pilot Program uncheck the Select partner websites may use information I'm sharing with everyone to automatically personalize my experience.
Okay, now that we're done with that we need to go through the Facebook Application settings. Before that I'd like to say that one thing most people don't realize, even though it says it when you sign up, is that most Facebook applications are not written by Facebook, but once you sign up you grant them the same access to your information that Facebook has. Something to consider before you add that next horoscope application. Along with questionable advice you may be giving some questionable people access to your information.
Let's go back up to Account and select Application Settings. Now you should have a list of applications that includes Facebook, Events, Gifts, etc. Beside each one is an Edit Settings link. Click that and select [Only Friends]. Do this for all of them.
Phew! That was quite a bit of work. Now you know why people are a bit anxious about Facebook. Most people don't have the patience to go through all this and consequently are stuck with the default settings which are quite permissive.
Go back to the [Scan for Privacy] button on the button bar of your browser. Click it now and see if you've got all green. If not go back to that section and see what you missed.
Again, you may have a specific need that requires you to relax the security in one area, but now you're doing it knowingly and not unwittingly.