Facebook is the undisputed king of the Social Media mountain for now. And while it’s important to remember that it’s built for interactivity rather than reach, it can be a worthwhile tool for a lot of businesses.
But recent changes in Facebook have created major privacy concerns — many of them well founded. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has made it clear that privacy is pretty much Facebook’s last priority, so it’s pretty much up to users. The tools are there to control who sees what (for the most part), but they’re scattered in several different places and less than intuitive. So here’s an unofficial guide to those tools with some suggestions on how to use them.
Who can find me, and how easily?
Depending on your settings, anybody on the Internet may be able to find your profile, look through all your photos, know who your friends are, know your email address(es), birthday, and find out a lot more. But people aren’t your only problem, or even your biggest. Facebook has authorized a huge number of “apps” that prowl about looking for data they can use or spread around. So let’s start globally and work our way inward:
Click Account | Privacy Settings | Search
Facebook Search Results – This setting governs who who can type in your name and find you on Facebook. If you’re certain you don’t care who locates you, you can leave this set to “Everyone.” I have mine set on “Friends of Friends,” figuring that if somebody knows somebody who’s already on my friends list, chances are good that I’m willing to hear from them. I may not want them to see anything, but we’ll fix that in a few minutes. The most restrictive setting for this is “Friends,” which means only your Facebook friends can find you.
Public Search Results
Amazingly, a lot of Facebook users aren’t aware that their profiles now can be found through Google, Yahoo!, and other search engines. This one’s easy. Just make sure the “Allow” box is unchecked.
What can they find out?
There’s a shortcut to finding out what shows up in your profile. Click:
Account | Privacy Settings
You’ll see a list of six categories. We’ve already visited one (Search). For now, let’s just click “Personal Information and Posts.” To see what’s visible now, click
Preview My Profile
in the upper right part of the screen. The screen you see is the one non-friends see. If you see more than one tab, be sure and click them all, because they’re all visible.
Now, let’s see what your friends can see. After all,not all Facebook friends are created equal. My friends include family, clients, friends and people I’ve barely even heard of. We can customize our settings so that you can share stuff with your family but not necessarily with the virtual strangers we all add in our weaker moments. Near the top of your screen, you’ll see: “Preview how your profile appears to a specific person.” Type in the name of any Facebook friend (assuming you haven’t set up any lists yet) and you can see what’s visible to them. Be sure and click through the various content tabs (e.g. Wall, Info, Photos etc.) and start thinking about whether everybody really needs access to all that.
Lists: Different access for different folks
If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking at this point that you’d like to be able to share some things with close friends and family and other things with clients. You may not want the world to know what your children look like, or you may not want your dear old mother looking at photos from some beer busts from your frat days. So let’s group our “Friends” into some lists. Go to
Account | Edit Friends
To see them all, look in the column to the left and click “All Connections.” Now you should see all your Facebook Friends in alphabetical order (starting with the first name – no, I don’t know why). To the right is a column that probably has “Add to List” next to most of them (unless you’ve already set up some lists). I recommend trying to fit everybody into a group – e.g., family, colleagues, clients, college, high school, Kiwanis, church etc. Going through all your friends and fitting them into groups will almost certainly cause you to wonder why some are on your list to start with. If you see somebody on your list and have no reason who he or she is, as I did, feel free to use the little “x” to the right and delete them. See? It didn’t hurt a bit.
The Nitty Gritty: Who gets to see what
Now we’re done with the preliminaries and can get down to serious business. So let’s go to:
Account | Privacy Settings | Personal Information and Posts
For each of these settings, you’ll want to customize who has access. If you have “Everyone” on the right column all the way down the page, you’ll probably want to do some serious tightening up. On the surface, it appears that your choices for each are limited to “Everyone” (which means EVERYONE!), “Friends of Friends” or Friends.” But if you’ve set up your friend lists correctly, you have a lot more flexibility. For example, I post a lot about media, and I had a couple of extremists who used my posts as a launching pad for diatribes about the “liberal media.” I just put them in a list (I won’t say what I really called it, but for our purposes, let’s just call it “intrusives”). For those, I just customize my settings for who can read my posts or my friends’ posts by clicking Customize, then selecting All Friends but putting “Intrusives” on the “Hide this from” line.
Note that you can customize who sees each of your photo albums. Just do each the same way – selecting Customize and specifying lists of people who can see or not see each album. Be sure to check the “Preview” using the names of different lists to make sure each is seeing only what you choose to reveal.
Whether you realize it or not, you’re almost certainly using a lot of applications. Every time you click a “Facebook” or “Share” button on a non-Facebook site, you’re probably opening up your profile to a new application and a lot of people and machines you don’t know. Here’s the official statement of what applications and non-Facebook sites have access to:
“When you visit a Facebook-enhanced application or website, it may access any information you have made visible to Everyone as well as your publicly available information. This includes your Name, Profile Picture, Gender, Current City, Networks, Friend List, and Pages. The application will request your permission to access any additional information it needs.”
If that’s not scary enough, remember too that once you use an app, it can now take information from your profile and pass it on to another party to “make the experience more social” – i.e. to sell you something. A good experience is passing on your birthday to sell birthday greetings for friends to send you. But it can include anything on your site – gender, marital status, family, relationship details (“looking for …” etc.), and religious and political views. That can get pretty scary, so I just made sure none of the boxes were checked, so apps can’t share that information about me.
Pages: Nowhere to hide
Finally, there’s the matter of all those pages, causes and organizations you “liked” (using the current term). At the moment, you can’t hide them from anybody. This is really ironic, because the big thrust now is to recruit business pages. But if you can’t hide them, the only thing to do is delete them all (like I did) or not “like” any more pages. Otherwise, it’s the equivalent of publishing all your bookmarks.
What you do is your business! I just want to help you do it with your eyes open.
OK, I wanted to get your attention, because this is a biggie. Did I mention you really need to pay attention to this? If you’ve drifted away, let’s make sure you’re in the right place:
Account | Privacy Settings | Applications and Websites
Look for the setting for the “Instant Personalization Pilot Platform.” This has created such an uproar that Facebook may eventually have to back off on it, but just in case, you’ll want to make sure you’re opted out. Here’s the Orwellian language introducing the progam that “helps you connect more easily with your friends on select partner sites”:
“You’ll find a personal and social experience the moment you arrive on our select partner sites — currently Microsoft Docs.com, Pandora, and Yelp. We’re working closely with these partners in a pilot program so you can quickly connect with your friends and see relevant content on their sites. These sites personalize your experience using your public Facebook information.”
There’s a single box at the bottom to allow these (and future) partners to dig into your Facebook information posts and use it to “personalize” their offerings. It may be something as inoffensive as noting that you’re an Allman Brothers fan and suggesting some of their music. But the truth is you just don’t know. I opted out. You do what you like, but at least give it some thought.
Before we quit, let’s take a look at your applications. I thought I avoided most apps because I don’t take those quizzes and play Farmville, but I still found more than a dozen applications – mostly things I’m willing to put up with, like Digsby, which lets me use Facebook for instant messaging without being on the page, and Hootsuite, which lets me post to Twitter and Facebook at the same time. But I did spot a few that were up to some mischief. One news site had me “opted in” to access my Facebook data when I wasn’t using the application, and to pass it along. I said “Oh no, you don’t!”
That’s not nearly everything, but if you lock down these areas and review your settings every month or so, you’ll probably be OK. No promises.