Flickr photo by cambodia4kidsorgWhen Facebook published their privacy guide earlier this year, a lot of us thought, "Wait, people can see my what?"
There are two areas of Facebook privacy: What you can, and what you cannot control. First, let's take a look at what you can control.
1) How to take action and protect your privacy on Facebook:
It all begins with Facebook's privacy settings.
Every piece of information, outside of your name and your profile picture, have privacy settings you can control. (Facebook suggests if you don't want people seeing your profile picture, do not publish one.)
You have to decide how much information about yourself you want to be available to your friends, your friends of friends, or the whole world. If you don't mind having everyone know your name and hometown and all of the other information fields you filled out when creating your account, don't sweat it -- you don't need to do anything.
However, if you are concerned about anyone seeing anything, the short step is go to privacy settings at the bottom of your Facebook page, click on "customize settings," skip over the options to select "customize" for every field you've entered information into, and change the setting to "Only Me."
(If you want to completely lock down your FB account, check out this handy pictorial.)
After changing your settings, be sure you flip through all of your photo albums, as those published prior to the new privacy guide can still be pre-set to "Everyone."
I Want Some Things to Be Private, But Not Everything
If you want some more nuance in your profile, head back to the privacy settings page and stop before you customize and choose whether you want "Everyone," "Friends of Friends," or "Friends Only" having access to each of your information fields.
So you can allow your "Friends" to see photos, but hide your birth date from everyone except "Only Me." You can control your basic directory information so people can or cannot see your current city, interests, education, and work.
Another selective option, scroll down to Block Lists. If you don’t want anyone to find you when searching Facebook or send you friend requests, you can block it before it happens by editing your block list and including names and emails of those people you want to avoid.
Partner Websites and Instant Personalization
There are a few websites Facebook has partnered with (currently it’s only Pandora, Yelp, and Docs) where your FB information is automatically transferred to them so they can personalize your experience. To turn off the instant personalization, click on Applications and Websites at the bottom of the privacy page and remove the check in front of “Enable instant personalization on partner websites." If you want Pandora to know you're a Band of Horses fan, leave it alone.
This is where the Google comes in, and some people don't like this. Others count on this search, say if you're a blogger and use social networking in order to increase your blog traffic.
You can see how much of your profile is visible when someone searches for you on Google by clicking on the preview. If letting the general public know you’re a fan of “Can this poodle wearing a tinfoil hat get more fans than Glenn Beck?” makes you uncomfortable, go to Applications and Websites on the privacy page and disable your public search.
Someone Tagged Me in a Photo and I Don’t Like It!
Simply go to the photo and next to your name is a remove tag option. Now no one will see that you were beer bonging in "Keg Party ’99" if you don’t want them to know you were a rager back in the day.
Also remember, if you comment on someone else’s wall or about something they posted, it can be shared with others. The other user’s privacy settings are what count here -- not yours. As in life, don’t say something to a group of people if you don’t want it repeated.
How Do You Know I Know Her?
When you see those pop-ups that ask you to connect to a friend, or invite a friend from your contacts, that’s because Facebook has a tool that can access your email contacts so it knows who your friends are. If you don’t want Facebook in your contact business, you can remove that option as well.
If I Die, Will My Facebook Account Live On?
Yes. Unless a loved one puts in a request. What’s especially interesting about this option is that when someone passes away, Facebook will memorialize the account, allowing friends and loved ones to post messages on the deceased's wall.
You can, however (or rather your loved ones can), have the account removed by contacting FB.
Want to Remove Yourself From Facebook Altogether?
There's a button for that.
Also handy about this option, you can use this if someone plugged in your email address to search for you, since FB stores all of this info. Ask them to remove your email from their database so you’re not popping up on anyone else’s page with a prompt “Hey, invite this person to FB!”
If after all of this, you’re thinking, “I don’t want this FB craziness anymore!” go here to deactivate your account.
2) What Facebook knows about you, and you can't do anything about it:
There are four pieces of information you absolutely have to give in order to join Facebook: your name, your gender, your email address, and your birth date. Everything else is optional. These are the four pieces of information that Facebook has and will keep. Basic directory information is open to everyone when you join Facebook, they explain why, but the long and the short of it is, so you can use Facebook as it was intended.
If you want to start connecting to your friends from your alma maters, places of employment, or your home town, then Facebook will also have that information. You may choose to share your religious or political affiliations and put up photos, but you don't have to do that if you don't want Facebook hanging on to that information. Heck, you don't have to even be on Facebook. But who are we kidding?
So assume any information you give, Facebook has. They do not share this specific information with advertisers, but they do give demographic information -- it's just not connected to your identity. That's why you'll see ads for local businesses or job listings in your field pop up on your Facebook home page.
When you play a game, download a Facebook App, or do anything else that takes you out of FB jurisdiction, all bets are off. Protect your information elsewhere as you would protect it on Facebook. Remember, if you block someone from your friend list, but you're still going at it with them on Mafia Wars, they can still see what you're up to on Facebook.
Most importantly, always remember that any information you share in a public forum will, at the least, be seen by the creator of that forum. If you really, really, really, really don't want a specific piece of information about you to be known by anyone, don't share it on the web -- Facebook, or anywhere else.