Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with friends and family, but it has a couple drawbacks too. One of the major ones is that Facebook is not very careful with your privacy. You have to check every time new Facebook features features roll out, usually. Facebook’s privacy options are a huge mess and hard to manage though!
So why does Facebook keep trying to make your profile info more public, and makes it hard to secure your page? The same answer to every question about websites you don’t have to pay for outright: money. Facebook makes money by selling ads that target you, and the more open your profile information the better they can target ads.
So what can you do about it? Fortunately there’s lots of easy ways to lock things down.
Only put in the minimum you need to make sure others can find you on Facebook. Do you really need your home address on your profile? Probably not, most people who need it will already have it or can always ask for it. If your personal info is ever accidentally made public either by yourself by accident or by a Facebook update, it won’t matter so much if you don’t actually list most of that personal information. Take a minute to edit or delete your Facebook profile information and get it down to the bare mininum.
Whenever you connect to Facebook for the first time from a particular mobile app, it will automatically and silently publish your cell phone publicly on your profile! Be sure to go into your profile and remove your cell phone number from your “About” page’s “Contact Info” section afterwards.
Make sure your publishing settings aren’t set too low. You can check them by clicking on the down arrowhead next to “Home” in the upper right of your profile and selecting “Privacy Settings” from the drop-down menu. For most people “Friends” is good enough.
You also need to get into the habit of checking the privacy setting whenever you post your status – it doesn’t use the default privacy setting! Instead, it uses the same privacy level as the last status update you posted. So if you decided to post a status update and make it public, every status update you make after that will be public too. You have to explicitly change the privacy setting in the drop-down menu next to the “Post” button again. So whenever you post a status update, try to get into the habit of glancing at the privacy level listed to the left of the “Post” button before you click it.
You might be surprised at which apps you’ve authorized and what privileges they have. Lots of site using “Login with Facebook” to give you access quietly install an app that gives them access to your information and the ability to post to your feed (newspaper and magazines are especially bad for this, posting every article you read on their site to your feed). Also, other friends using the same app provide a way for that app to pull down your personal information. You can check app permissions by clicking on the down arrowhead next to “Home” in the upper right of your profile and selecting “Privacy Settings” from the drop-down menu, then clicking “Edit Settings” next to “Ads, Apps and Websites”.
If you don’t like the app you can just click the little “x” next to “Edit” to delete it, or if you’re editing you can click “Remove App”. If you want to keep the app, you can at least change the visibility of “Post on your behalf” to “Only Me” so that it isn’t spamming your friends’ feeds (or revealing that you just read “Naughty Vixens Unchained” on some other site!).
Facebook has partnered with several big websites to offer “Instant Personalization”. Which means that those website have access to all the public information on your profile. They say this is so sites can show you your friends’ reviews and such, but mostly it’s so those sites can better target their ads using your Facebook profile personal information.
To turn instant personalization off, click on the down arrowhead next to “Home” in the upper right of your profile and selecting “Privacy Settings” from the drop-down menu, then click “Edit Settings” next to “Instant personalization”, click the “Close” button on the annoying pop up Facebook forces you to look at so you can really understand what instant personalization is all about and how it’s soooo good for you, then (finally!) uncheck “Enable instant personalization on partner websites”.
Do you want people to be able to find your Facebook profile when they Google anything that is in your Facebook profile information? No? I didn’t think so! Turn it off by clicking on the down arrowhead next to “Home” in the upper right of your profile and selecting “Privacy Settings” from the drop-down menu, clicking “Edit Settings” next to “Public Search”, and unchecking the “Enable public search” checkbox.
Facebook isn’t yet selling your name and pictures to advertisers, but they’re thinking about it. You can turn this option off in advance and should do so as I very much doubt that it will be announced very loudly when they do start doing this. To turn this off, click on the down arrowhead next to “Home” in the upper right of your profile and selecting “Account Settings” from the drop-down menu, then click “Facebook Ads” on the left, then click “Edit third party ad settings”, change the drop-down to “No one” and finally click “Save Changes”.
You’ll also want to turn off Facebook’s internal use of your name and profile picture in the ads that only show on Facebook. This is almost the same as the above procedure: click on the down arrowhead next to “Home” in the upper right of your profile and selecting “Account Settings” from the drop-down menu, then click “Facebook Ads” on the left, then click “Edit social ads setting”, change the drop-down to “No one” and finally click “Save Changes”.
There’s some good security settings available for Facebook to help keep your account safe from hackers and phishing. First click on the down arrowhead next to “Home” in the upper right of your profile and selecting “Account Settings” from the drop-down menu, then click “Security” on the left.
From there, you’ll want to edit the following settings:
- Add a security question that Facebook can use to verify your identity, just like a banking website:
Click “Edit” next to “Security Question”, select a question, enter an answer, enter your password and then click “Save Changes”.
- Force Facebook to use secure browsing (SSL) whenever it can to encrypt any information going over the internet to and from your computer:
Click “Edit” next to “Secure Browsing”, check “Browse Facebook on a secure connection (https) when possible” and then click “Save Changes”.
- If you usually only ever log in from the same computers and mobile devices, it’s a good idea to have Facebook email you if it detects a login from some other machine (like some hacker’s in Russia):
Click “Edit” next to “Login Notifications”, check “Email” and then click “Save Changes”.
- Again, if you usually only ever log in from the same computers and mobile devices, you might want to have Facebook text you a security code before allowing you to log in. However, this does mean letting Facebook have access to your cell phone number, which it may later make available to advertisers and app creators so I personally wouldn’t recommend it.
Click “Edit” next to “Login Approvals”, check “Require me to enter a security code each time an unrecognized computer or device tries to access my account”, set up your mobile phone if you haven’t already, and then click “Save Changes”.
There are a few Facebook security and privacy tools out there that can help you look at your settings and keep your profile safe.
First off is antivirus company Bitdefender’s Safego Facebook app, which scans your account for posts from scammers, profile security breaches, etc. It’s quite handy and effective, but of course no real substitute for using common sense.
Finally there’s Reclaim Privacy‘s Facebook Privacy Scanner browser tool. While it hasn’t yet been completely updated for Facebook’s new Timeline, it still does a good job of sniffing out any settings you might have missed manually checking things over. It takes a while to complete it’s scan, so be patient.
Whew! That’s a lot or work just to read through, much less actually go through and change all those settings! You might want to spread all that out over a few days. You might be tempted to give up and just say “aw, screw it, I’ll be ok – who cares about my information anyway?”
Well, you’d be surprised. The personal information mined from Facebook can be quickly sold to internet advertisers, telemarketers and junk mail advertisers all over. Plus a clever hacker can use that information to guess at answer to bank security questions like your mother’s maiden name or the name of high school you graduated from. All your personal information is pretty valuable in the digital age, so keep it safe!