Facebook Privacy: 10 Simple Tips to Security on the Social Network

Jan 13, 2012

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The following article is an excerpt from a chapter in the book, Web of Deceit: Misinformation and Manipulation in the Age of Social Media. The full chapter is titled: "They Know Where You Live: Guarding Your Privacy and Identity" and is written by Cynthia Hetherington. The book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers. Ebook edition coming soon.

In the physical world, good or bad news would be shared over the telephone or spoken in person to a few close friends. You wouldn't stand on a mountaintop and announce to the world that you just finished a load of laundry or that you were staying home with a sick child that day. Never mind the mountaintop, you wouldn't even walk into your local grocery store and do that. Doing so would seem awkward and inappropriate. And yet, in online social networks such as Facebook or Twitter, it feels like the social norm to mention these details. In fact, it is almost a social obligation to do so. People on Facebook have a lot of contact with one another, and those people actually care about what is said. These shifts can initially be unsettling for the first-time Facebook user.

That's where things get sticky. In an environment of such relatively uninhibited, open communication, it isn't long before overzealous opinions, little bits of rage, drunken rants, and other embarrassing entries get posted. The user could be upset, deranged, or overjoyed, and his or her natural reaction is to share the emotion--and often that sharing takes place on a social network. Friends don't let friends drive drunk, right? Be sure to take not just the keys away from that person but also the keyboard.

Sharing your thoughts and activities online in and of itself is not necessarily a problem. The problem comes when users forget that everyone in their social network is reading their posts. When you post something in frustration over your boss, co-worker, spouse, or friend, remember that the boss, co-worker, spouse, or friend--and all their networked friends (and all of their networked friends)--may also be reading your posts.

Want examples? Visit youropenbook.org and search the following phrases: hate my boss, cheated on my husband, or any other such confessional phrase to search public Facebook postings using Facebook's own search service.

Having second thoughts now about using Facebook? It is possible to take part in Facebook and still maintain a modicum of privacy. To accomplish this, keep the following lessons in mind:

10 Facebook Privacy and Security Tips

1. Do not write in a fury. If you are angry, inebriated, or simply have a big secret that you are itching to share, it's time to step away from the keyboard. What you think is hysterical or outlandish to post now might only serve to embarrass you later.

2. Do not ignore Facebook's privacy controls. Your Facebook profile can be customized. Do it. Limit access to only your friends, friends of friends, or only yourself. Do not enter contact information, such as your phone number and address. Restrict access to your photos, birth date, religious views, and family information, among other things. Give only certain people or groups of people access to items such as photos or block specific people from seeing them.

3. Do not post your child's name in a photo caption. Don't use a child's name in photo tags or captions. If someone else does, delete the name's tag by clicking on Remove Tag. If your child isn't on Facebook and someone includes his or her name in a caption, ask that person to remove the name. Do not share the details of your child's life online. Soccer practice is likely on a regular schedule, which can be easily tracked by a predator reading Facebook profiles.

4. Do not mention when you'll be away from home. When you tell your friends through Facebook that you are not going to be home, you are inviting criminals trolling Facebook profiles-especially unsecured profiles-to your house.

5. Do not use a weak password. Avoid using simple names or words that can be found in a dictionary as passwords. Even with numerals tacked on the end of the word, that is not a secure password. Instead, use a knuckle-breaker password, one that requires upper- and lower-case letters in combination with numerals and symbols. A secure password should have a minimum of eight characters.

6. Do not put your birthday in your profile. Your birth date is an ideal target for identity thieves who can use it to obtain more information about you, potentially gaining access to your bank or credit card accounts. If you've already entered your birth date in Facebook, go to your profile page and click on the Info tab, then on "Edit Information." Under the Basic Information section, choose to show only the month and day-or, better yet, no birth date at all.

7. Do not let search engines find you. To help prevent strangers from accessing your Facebook page, go to Facebook's Privacy Section and then Apps, Games and Websites. There you will see Public Search, where you have the option to enable or disable that function.

8. Do not ignore your privacy settings. Facebook changes its Terms of Service regularly. You must check your profile by choosing the Privacy Settings on the pull-down menu item on the right-hand side of the screen. Alternately, go to www.facebook.com/edit profile.php after you have logged in to the site. Here you will see two buttons in the upper right hand corner, View My Profile and View As. This shows you what you have available for the general public to view. Once you see how much of your page is exposed, visit the privacy settings and fine tune your profile to share only as much as you are comfortable with. To stay on top of Facebook's ever-changing privacy features, visit www.facebook.com/help/privacy often.

9. Do not permit your children to be on Facebook. Facebook limits its members to ages 13 and older, but children younger than 13 still use it. If you have a young child or teenager on Facebook, then become one of their online friends. It is your best chance to provide parental oversight of what is going on in their account. Use your email address as the contact for their account so that you receive their notifications and can monitor their activities.

10. Do not friend your employer. Sure, it seems like a great idea to friend your boss; that is, until you decide to rant about how much you hate working overtime or you post photos of your day at the beach (um, the same day you called into work sick).