You Better Watch Out: How To Set Up Your Facebook The Secure Way
Over the coming days, people around the world will log in to Facebook to share photos, videos, location check-ins and status updates — OK, and maybe a political argument or two — with their friends and loved ones.
And though Facebook is a wonderful way to connect online with the people you know offline, you may end up sharing more — and with more strangers — than you might realize. Without the proper privacy settings enabled, Facebook can quickly grow to be your single biggest privacy vulnerability (three-letter government agencies excluded).
Here’s how to make sure you’ve got your Facebook profile set up to eliminate unnecessary privacy violations.
To make effective use of Facebook, start with this basic principle: The site will ask you to share a lot of information so it can link you to friends, but you’re under no obligation to provide most of it.
For example, though Facebook will badger you for additional info, you don’t have to provide anything beyond your name, email address, birthday and gender. Everything else, from your schools and employer to your profile picture, current city and hometown, can stay blank.
Note that Facebook treats your name, profile picture, gender, username and “networks” (in practice, your schools and employers) as public information. That doesn’t mean that anybody online can see it — but with 1.19 billion active users on Facebook as of September 2013, that’s not much of a distinction.
Your choice of friends affects your privacy much more. Here, Facebook’s prompting you to import the contacts lists of Web-mail services is not that helpful — you’re better off by starting with close friends and family, as in the people you’d already trust with your house keys (whom you can designate as “Close Friends”) or at least invite over for dinner.
Facebook allows you to rank your friends by closeness — a practice that may seem cruel, but that can help minimize clutter and unwanted sharing. You should make a point of categorizing more casual friends as “Acquaintances” — and then you can easily exclude them from seeing more personal updates by making those posts visible only to the “Friends Excluding Acquaintances” in the “audience selector” menu below the big “Update Status” box.
If you’re queasy about “defriending” certain friends, afraid to hurt their feelings, this is a good compromise.
Facebook’s Privacy Settings page includes a good but brief overview of how its privacy options affect sharing information, being “tagged” in posts by others, changing your settings and installing apps and games. This should be your invitation to change some key options, starting with the “See more settings” link at the bottom of the Privacy Shortcuts menu available from the lock icon at the top right corner throughout Facebook: