No Privacy On Facebook

Thousands of members of the UMBC community are also members of Facebook. Facebook is a social networking website where individuals can share thoughts, pictures and tons of other things with others whom they have accepted as “friends.” When Facebook was just starting out, user privacy was of paramount importance to its developers, and as a result, members’ personal information was available by default to only their “friends.” In December, Facebook changed the default privacy settings and the ramifications for your personal privacy are important to understand.

In the past, things like updates, shared photos and links were, by default, visible only to friends. In December, Facebook’s “Transition Tool” offered users the chance to review and modify their privacy settings under the new rules. Unfortunately, most of us just went along with the “Recommended” privacy option, which, by default, left our Basic Info and things that we posted available to everyone (and by everyone, I mean EVERYONE). Even our Wall, Photos and Personal Info was made visible to people we didn’t know, such as “friends of friends.”

So what’s a busy social networker to do? Fortunately, Facebook, under pressure from angry members, has created settings that can restore some of your privacy, as detailed in this New York Times technology article. Here’s where to find them:

From your Profile page, click the word “Account” at the top right and then choose “Privacy Settings” from the list that appears. Click “Profile Information” from the selections that appear on the next page.  On this page, you can easily change who sees what, such as Personal Info, Family and Relationships and Posts By Me. I’ve restricted every one of my mine to “Only Friends.” Going back to the main Privacy page, you can also change who can find you in searches, and who can contact you.

Here’s a screencast that walks you through the steps:

Many of us also casually participate in Applications and Quizzes. When we decide to accept these things, we probably think little about the warning that precedes it: “Allowing [app/quiz] access will let it pull your profile information, photos, your friends’ info, and other content that it requires to work.” And it’s not kidding, either. Facebook apps and quizzes allow their developers to see everything you share with your friends and, even more worrisome, the developers get to see all of your unprotected information even when your friends do an install. Curious about what information of yours is being pulled by Facebook software developers? Try this quiz created by the ACLU.

Keep in mind that Facebook doesn’t screen its software developers, or use its technology to limit what data they collect from you or how they use it. Add to that the fact that few developers have strong in-house privacy policies and you have a perfect storm for those of us who don’t wish to have our personal information shared, sold or posted to the Internet.

This potential for misuse is especially problematic for students, according to this Career Builder article, as one of the first things many employers do is to screen potential employees via Google and Facebook. Selecting the right privacy settings can be important, especially if you use Facebook to post photos or socialize, as those activities can be misleading when seen out of context.

That’s why its important to be extremely cautious about what you share on Facebook, because once it’s posted, you have little to no control over how it might be used. A humorous example is this story about a man who found his wife’s face being used in an online ad for “hot singles.” The lesson is clear: there is no such thing as Internet privacy. Anything you share on Facebook is potentially someone else’s to steal, so consider your privacy settings carefully and be very, very selective about what you choose to publish.

Facebook is a fabulous tool. It allows many people to keep in touch with friends and share important elements of their life. Like any community, there are unscrupulous people on Facebook, and you want to make certain you are proactive in protecting your privacy.