Friday, March 19, 2010

Privacy Settings for Facebook

Aren’t social networks fun?! I know that I have enjoyed catching up with old high school friends especially the far-flung ones who lead such a different life than I do. And, I love to stay in touch with former ward members.

But sometimes they are not. Have you ever witnessed a break-up on Facebook? Not pretty. I’ve also seen some snide comments, even downright nasty.

How do you enjoy the benefits of social networks but avoid the downsides?

Don’t over-share unknowingly
Over-sharing can be one danger and lately Facebook made some changes to their privacy settings that few Facebook users have really paid attention to. FB has defaulted several settings in order to allow for greater information sharing.

That was in December. Have you checked your settings since then?

While FB has chosen to allow more information to be shared about you, they have also given you greater power to choose your own settings and regulate what others see about you

Know your publicly available information
Some of your Facebook information is available to anyone on the internet. It’s called PAI or publicly available information.
Publicly available information includes your name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, friend list, and Pages. You have more control over this than you think. You just have to know where to find it. If you are not comfortable with this, you may want to delete your FB account. But first read on about the settings.

Publicly available information is visible to people visiting your profile page, and Facebook-enhanced applications (like applications you use or websites you connect to using Facebook) may access this information. It does not allow people without Facebook accounts to contact you.

Check your settings
Now’s the time to check your settings and make sure you are not allowing others to see more than you want them to.

To make your choices, first click on “Account” on the top right of the page and choose “Privacy Settings” from the drop-down menu.

You see:
Profile Information
Contact Information
Applications and Websites
Block List

The Profile Information section is where you specify who can see any information you have added about your interests, religious and political views, and education and work experience, as well as who can see photos in which you appear.

In the Contact Information section, make selections about who sees your phone numbers, address, any Web sites you have added and your hometown. It’s worth mentioning here that security experts discourage people from broadcasting their home addresses (as well as birthdays) because this sort of information could be misused by identity thieves—not to mention, regular thieves who might see your status message about what a great time you’re having away on vacation.

In the Applications section, you control what you share when using FB apps and games. It’s important to understand what information applications can access. As Facebook writes, when you visit applications, they “may access any information you have made visible to Everyone as well as your publicly available information.

In the Search section you can remove your FB profile from Google and other search engines. The information displayed in the search profile is limited to: your profile picture, a list of your friends, and a list of up to approximately 20 Facebook Pages that you have become a fan of. Some people enjoy having their information displayed in search engines, as it makes them easy to find. For those that prefer to err on the side of privacy though, it’s a good idea to remove yourself from the search engines.

Click into each of these categories and choose who sees what.
  • Everyone  - anyone on or off of Facebook
  • Friends of friends - anyone who is friends of any friend you’ve allowed on your list
  • Only friends - friends you’ve confirmed
  • Customize - very specific choices about specific friends. This is the tightest control. One choice is “Only me”.
For me, personally, I only allow friends to post on my wall or comment on my posts.

Also, I have several friends who are always inviting me to play this game or use that app. You can ignore invitations from certain people by clicking into Applications and Websites and specifying which invitations to ignore.

I do allow everyone to see education and work information because it may lead to future job possibilities.

Limit who sees your friends list
One of the most frequent activities of users is to browse through other users’ friends. If you want to prevent others from viewing your friends, you can follow these steps:
  1. Go to your profile page
  2. Click on the pencil icon in the top right corner of your “Friends” box
  3. Uncheck the box which says “Show my friends on my profile”
Now you’ve successfully hidden others from viewing your friends. Keep in mind that your friends list is accessible to any Facebook applications you use.

Pay attention to your  “Friends
Though it's fun to “collect” friends and boost your ego, don’t accept every invitation that comes to you.

The average user on FB has 120 friends. Can you really keep up with more?

I have around 300, but I just had a high school reunion that I couldn’t go to so I did my catching up on Facebook. A lot of those “friends” I hardly knew in high school anyway, so off they come from my list. I have a lot of friends from all of the wards we’ve lived in over the years, but honestly I don’t even try to keep up with them all.

All I'm saying is, be choosy about who you accept as a FB friend.

Don’t allow others to abuse you through social networks. Do some housekeeping. Don’t be afraid to  “unfriend” or “ignore” someone. FB does not tell them and you are not obligated to them on a social network site in the same way as you may be in real life. I know that sounds so un-friend-like, but the ties online are not as binding.

If you just can’t bear to unfriend anyone, but you are still annoyed by their posts in your newsfeed, hover over their name with the cursor. The  “Hide” button appears so you can hide their postings.

Think about what you share
You can restrict who sees your shared content on a per-post basis. When you click into What's on your mind? text field to add a post, you'll see a lock icon with an arrow to the right under the text field. Choose a specific audience to share the post with.

Do take a minute to understand what you are sharing, who you are sharing it with and what information all the FB applications are gathering when you sign up.

I recommend this article:
10 New Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know 

One last word of common sense, if you have something you want to keep private, don’t share it on Facebook or any other social network.

Imagine that your latest post is broadcast on the JumboTron at the Superbowl. Do you really want to hit that Share button?!

More in a future post about social network etiquette.


Other reading:
Facebook's Privacy fundamentals
NY Times - The New Facebook Privacy Settings: A How-To
ACLU explains possible FB Privacy implications
Privacy Is Still Important
Facebook's Privacy Settings: 5 Things You Should Know


  1. This was great Ellen. Thank you.

  2. Thank You! It was bothering me that my friends list was available for everyone to see, and now I've fixed it!

  3. Wonderful! This was great and so helpful Ellen! Thanks for taking the time to write it!

  4. Thanks Ellen! I'm not on FB because I have been afraid of the privacy issues and getting "sucked-in" to a time waster. Now that I know I have some control, I'll rethink my resistance....


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