Last spring, I wrote a blog called Facebook Privacy Potholes in which I explained how to navigate Facebook’s then somewhat difficult privacy control terrain. Since then Facebook has given its privacy controls a much needed, well, facelift. It is now fairly easy to control your Facebook privacy settings. And it’s more important than ever to know how to protect your online privacy with Facebook and any other social networking service for that matter.
I just read an article that kind of sent shivers up my spine. Cult of Mac, the daily news website that follows anything Apple, reported on an iPhone app called Girls Around Me that actually pinpoints the locations of women on a Google Map that are within a certain radius of your location. The app does this by tapping into Facebook and Foursquare APIs that provide information on the locations of women who have checked in with these services to let their friends know where they are.
The trouble is a lot of people either don’t know how or don’t do anything to change their default privacy settings, which are usually set to allow information like current geographic location to be essentially broadcast to everybody.
Limiting the circulation of your posts on Facebook – and Foursquare – to friends you trust is the best way to avoid being tracked by apps like Girls Around Me. Now, let’s take a look at how you can do that with the new Facebook privacy controls.
Taking It From The Top
Clicking on the Privacy Settings in your Facebook drop down menu takes you to a screen that shows your top-level privacy settings. The first improvement over previous Facebook versions you’ll notice is that your top level controls are there nicely organized into sections: Control Your Privacy When You Post, Control Your Default Privacy, How You Connect, Timeline and Tagging, Apps and Websites, Limit the Audience for Past Posts, and Blocked People and Apps.
In the Control Privacy When You Post section, the visibility of each post you make can be individually set to Public, Friends, Only Me, or a custom level. If you want to create a default setting for all your posts, click on Public, Friends or Custom under Control Your Default Privacy, then all your posts will use that setting. I strongly suggest you limit all your posts to friends and make sure that your friends on Facebook are just that, not merely acquaintances.
How You Connect
Clicking on this category link takes you to the How You Connect screen. It lets you control how, and if, you can be found in Facebook searches and contacted.
Allowing yourself to be found on Facebook is the one option I can advocate for setting to Everybody. If you don’t use this setting, you will be almost invisible to everyone, which makes it hard to reconnect with friends you had years ago who are trying to find you on Facebook. You do run the risk of getting spammed via email, but I haven’t seen so much on my account.
As for how people can contact you option, I suggest limiting this to Friends or Friends of Friends to cut down on unwanted messages. If you make a new real friend that is not in either category, you can “Friend” them which adds them into your circle of trust.
Timeline and Tagging
While I’m OK with people finding me on Facebook, when it comes to posting on my timeline and getting tagged in photos I want to limit either activity to a great degree. Facebook did a nice job of organizing these controls in the Timeline and Tagging panel.
The first three controls handle who can post to and see what’s on your timeline. I suggest you limit that to Friends only, particularly if your posts are somewhat personal. Of course, if they are too personal, I don’t think you do yourself any favors posting them on Facebook.
Tagging is a feature I’ve never really liked using nor promoted for myself, although I can see why people who are very close on social networking circles and in real life would like to be tagged in each other’s photos.
Facebook allows you to review posts to your timeline in which others tag you when you enable these controls. Unfortunately, this does not prevent people from tagging you in photos that appear elsewhere on Facebook. Such a feature is high on my wish list for future enhancements to the service.
With the last control on the timeline panel, you can opt out of letting people use Facebook facial recognition to get assistance in tagging you in photos in which you appear. I wrote a blog about this technology when it was first introduced, stating that facial recognition does not diminish your privacy on Facebook any more that being in involved in social networking does. Nevertheless if you feel the way I do about tagging, you might as well opt out of this feature by setting this control to No one.
Apps and Websites
In my Facebook Privacy Potholes blog, I commented that it’s a good idea to limit the access to your personal information that apps and websites have. My advice this time around is the same. Use the Apps and Websites panel to take an audit of the apps that currently have access to your Facebook account to see whether or not you still use them or should cut back on the information they access.
Let’s take an example from my settings. I use a Google Reader client app called Feedly from which I like to post articles to Facebook and Twitter. To do this, Feedly requires access to my accounts on both of these social networking services. When I click on Feedly, I get the panel of settings shown in the following illustrations.
Here I see that Feedly requires access to my basic information and information that people share with me. However, I was surprised to find out that by opting into Feedly on Facebook, I unknowingly allowed the app to manage my pages, which I certainly don’t recall allowing it to do when I first authorized access to my Facebook information. So I just clicked on the Remove link to prevent Feedly from doing this. I also didn’t feel comfortable with allowing the app to access my data anytime so I got rid of that privilege as well.
Another great Facebook privacy feature is the app access log. Click on the See details link under the Last data access section and a screen will pop up that shows you when and what Facebook information of yours was looked at.
The last three privacy controls in the Apps and Websites panel govern how the personal information gathered by apps can be used including: how people bring info to apps they use, instant personalization, and public search.
I’m going to make a sweeping generalization here by saying that none of these are your friend when it comes to maintaining your privacy on Facebook. Because these leave open the possibility of sharing information in ways that go otherwise unchecked, I suggest you opt out of all of them.
Limit the Audience for Past Posts
With the introduction of Timeline, Facebook made it convenient for you and others to go all the way back to when you first starting using the service to see what you posted. Limiting the audience for past posts enables you to convert all the posts that you made public or only shared with friends of friends to be visible to only friends.
This is very handy if you originally set the visibility of your posts to public or friends of friends back in the Control Your Default Privacy section of your top level privacy controls and you’ve since decided that wasn’t such a good idea. If that’s the case don’t forget to go back to that section and change the setting to Friends.
Blocked People and Apps
By the time you get to the Blocked People and Apps section of the top level privacy control panel, you are pretty well set and may not have to adjust anything here. On the other hand if you are troubled by contact from users who you don’t want to include in your friend list, app and event invites that you don’t interest you, or applications in general that you don’t want to hear from, you can block any or all of these in the Blocked People and Apps panel.
Another interesting control this panel gives you is the ability to compile a list of friends who should not receive your posts unless you make them public. I’m not sure when you’d really need this control if you truly trust all your Facebook friends. Before making such a list, I think you should consider first unfriending the friends you were planning to use it on.
I work for Trend Micro and opinions expressed here are my own.
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