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5 Essential Facebook Privacy Tips

Adam Rosenberg is the Online Community Manager at Salsa Labs. Most recently, he was the New Media Manager at the Center for Democracy & Technology where his work focused on Internet privacy, data protection, cybersecurity and open government issues.
The latest changes to Facebook have seen their fair share of criticism, with many users examining more closely the definition of “public vs. private.” Some users have been turned off enough by Facebook’s envelope pushing when it comes to privacy to go so far as to contemplate a mass Facebook exodus.
Whether or not the changes become the final blow to Facebook ()’s tenuous relationship with privacy remains to be seen. However, protecting your privacy is important on any social network, so while you’re still on Facebook, here are a few important privacy tips to keep in mind as you navigate the site’s newest incarnation.


1. Lists: Learn to Love ‘Em


The list function seems to be one of the most underrated privacy tools on Facebook. All privacy snafus aside, the past year has seen Facebook improve the granularity of privacy control settings by leaps and bounds. Users often forget that the tiny dial in the lower-right corner next to each post they share gives them an option to make that item visible to “Everyone,” “Friends Only,” or even particular lists.
It’s important to know that “Everyone” doesn’t just mean all Facebook users anymore. According to Facebook’s own website, it means the entire Internet (). This is a good thing to keep in mind if you select “Everyone” as a share setting for a post. A search for the term “soo drunk” with Facebook’s “Posts by Everyone” option reveals some openly available results that were probably not intended for public consumption.
Facebook Search Image
Lists can be extremely valuable for both privacy advocates and marketing professionals. The privacy cautious may want to use lists to restrict co-workers or professional contacts from knowing their relationship status, favorite movies, political views, etc. The marketer can use lists as a way to keep groups aware of products, announcements and events. And with “likes” now a very open cluster of data on the web, the list function is a more important privacy feature than ever.
To create and edit lists:
  • Go to Account
  • Click Edit Friends
  • Click Create New List (or Edit List if it’s for an existing list)
  • Add friends to this list
To use lists:
  • Go to Account
  • Click Privacy Settings
  • Click Personal Information and Posts
  • Select different areas and click Customize
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You can also use lists on every post and update you make on your profile. Just look for the “lock” symbol and follow the “customize” directions above.
Facebook Privacy Image
Facebook Image

2. When in Doubt, Just Log Out


While the ability to “Preview My Profile” can be used to find out what specific people in your network can see, it still doesn’t give you the full picture of what the general public will find when they come to your page.
Sharing personal information with friends is one thing, but it’s important to be aware of the content you present to the world from Facebook. A great way to check this is simply to log out of your profile, refresh your browser, and then visit your Facebook page. If you see something there that you don’t want available to the public, go back in and make the change.
Another option is to completely remove your profile’s visibility outside of Facebook. To do this, simply:
  • Click Account
  • Click Privacy Settings
  • Click Search
  • Uncheck the Public Search Results option
  • This makes your profile invisible to non-Facebook users.
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3. Audit Your “Likes”


Many Facebook users are eager to “Like” (previously, “Become a Fan Of”) many brands, causes, entertainers, etc. But the recent privacy changes have shined a brighter spotlight on the issue of “oversharing” information through social networks.
Unfortunately, the pages you “Like” cannot be masked through Facebook’s privacy settings, so anyone who has access to your profile can see them, and consequently make assumptions about your personality. While it may not be a big deal for people to see that I “Like” my employer’s Fan Page, or my favorite band, there may be things in your fan history that you’ve forgotten about — things you may or may not want the world to associate you with.
To combat this, it’s a good idea to edit your “Likes.” The easiest way is to do the following:
  • Click Account
  • Click Edit Friends
  • Click Pages on the left-hand column (remember, this includes pages for things in your activities, music, and movies sections of your profile, in addition to anything you’ve “liked”)
  • Go through this list and ask yourself, “Do I want this to be public?”
  • Then ask yourself, “If I want it public, would I be comfortable with strangers networking with me through these channels?
  • If something doesn’t meet your criteria, click Remove Connection (click the X).
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4. Spring Clean Your Third-Party Applications


One of the big changes to Facebook is the “Instant Personalization” feature, which allows several sites, including Microsoft’s docs.com, Yelp (), and Pandora (), to automatically connect to your feed by default.
Facebook has allowed these trusted partners access to your profile information in an effort to “create a better user experience.” Those who aren’t interested in these auto-connections, or who have privacy concerns, are required to manually opt out — and it’s not a very straightforward process. Here’s how to do it:
  • Click Account
  • Click Privacy Settings
  • Click Applications and Websites
  • Click Instant Personalization Pilot Program
Facebook Privacy Image
While opting out will stop the flow of information to these partner sites, your Facebook friends who use them may still share information about you, unless you block the application altogether. To do that, you’ll need to visit the application pages for Docs, Yelp, and Pandora and click “block application.” It’s probably a good idea to login to your accounts on these sites to make sure you have opted out on that end as well.
Facebook organizes your applications in categories so you can easily see which ones have been granted access to your profile information. The trouble is, they also make it difficult to simply find a list of “all” applications that you can manage in one place. If you only do an audit on one “section” of applications, make it the “authorized” section, as these apps have access to more data and information than others.
It’s not that connecting to these sites through Facebook is necessarily a bad thing. It’s just important to understand how your information is being shared, and make the decision yourself about how much you want to put out there.

5. Control What Friends Can Share About You Through Applications


In December 2009, Facebook introduced a new privacy setting to control what information could be shared with friends through applications. This is a key privacy feature because it relates to not just information you post on your profile, but what your friends could offer up about you to an application or website they are using through Facebook.
For example, your friend might use the “Give a Dog” application, which can access information you have made public including your name, gender, birthday, photos, videos, etc. Your information is used and collected by the app developer, even though you were not the one to actively share it.
To manage these settings:
  • Go to Account
  • Click Privacy Settings
  • Click Applications and Websites
  • Uncheck everything you don’t want applications to share without you knowing
  • Click Save Changes (Note that most Facebook settings pages will auto-save for you, but application privacy settings require this extra step)
Facebook Privacy Image
This somewhat confusing section is really just asking you what information you want collected and shared by third-party applications using your friends’ profiles as a conduit. It will not affect how much your friends can see on your profile. If you want to be in control of all of your data, we advise that you uncheck all the boxes here.
What other privacy settings have you found useful or important on the “new” Facebook? Be sure to share them in the comments.


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