Every so often, I see a flurry of friends reposting information (on Facebook) about how Facebook has made dramatic changes engineered to compromise their security and privacy and generally drag them, kicking and screaming, towards their personal destruction. That is UNLESS you take these few simple steps…
The posts are generally some variation on the following:
“…You may not know that Facebook has changed its privacy configuration once again. Thanks to the new “Graphic App”, any person in Facebook anywhere in the world can see our photos, our “likes” and our “comments”… I want to be able to publish photos of my friends and family without strangers being able to see them which is what happens now when you choose “like” or “comment”. Unfortunately we cannot change this configuration because Facebook has made it like this. So, please, do the following…”
So this round of hysteria comes to you sponsored by the new Facebook Graph Search, but the same issue resurfaces and makes the rounds with some other excuse.
As you should have already guessed, the information in the post is wrong. In fact, it’s someone having a good laugh at your expense.
A while back, after getting chastised for some legitimate privacy snafus, Facebook put into place a very robust and flexible system for you to control what others can see of your posts and what you can see of their posts (more or less). Unfortunately, “robust and flexible” also means “complex and poorly understood” which leads to the aforementioned problems.
Understanding Facebook privacy
Let’s combat this with a little information. Stick with me for a minute and I’ll give you the knowledge that you need to sleep well at night.
Let’s review the basics of how Facebook’s privacy controls work.
Yep, you are in the drivers seat when it comes to who can see the things that you post on Facebook. The controls for this are under the gear in the upper right hand corner of the screen under “Privacy Settings”.
The section that you want is conveniently labeled “Who can see my future posts” and it allows you to post publicly, to friends, to groups, and so on.
This list may look familiar as it’s the same list you see when actually posting a status update. The selection that you make in the privacy settings will be the default for posts that you make in the future, but you can change your options on a post by post basis.
These settings impact who can see your posts in their news feed, by looking at your profile and through Facebook’s recently implemented graph search function.
The Privacy Settings page is also where you can adjust who can contact you and look you up.
You also control how others can share information about you (sort of).
Realize that anyone can post those photos of you drunkenly dancing on a table – there’s no way to stop that. What you can do is limit their ability to connect you with those photos, thereby preventing the photos from showing up in your timeline where they’ll be seen by all of your Facebook friends.
Two options play a role here – first, when you are tagged in a photo or post, that item is added to your timeline. So the option of “who can post on your timeline” also means “who can tag me in a post”. In addition, you can enable an option to review posts that you’ve been tagged in prior to adding them to your timeline.
This is also where you control who can see these tagged posts on your timeline who may not have had access to the original posts.
Unfriending someone doesn’t cut off all contact
Friending on Facebook is clearly a two-way connection. Both parties need to agree that they’re friends in order for the connection to happen. This is true of many other relationships on the platform, such as stating that you’re married to another Facebook user.
Most of us realize that unfriending another user breaks that connection. You won’t see their posts any longer and anything that you’re only sharing with friends will no longer be accessible to your unfriends. What most people don’t realize, however, is that once unfriended, your former acquaintance is now set to follow you.
Following on Facebook is very similar to Twitter. Anyone can follow anyone else and anything that you post publicly will appear on the follower’s news feed. In other words, your new unfriend will see your public posts just as they always have. They may never realize that you’ve cut them off.
So mind who you’re posting to and, to cut your ties with another user completely, block them.
You also control what stuff you see that others post (sort of).
There are a number of ways that you can hide posts from and about your friends from your News Feed. The most common way this is done is to hover over the person’s photo in your News Feed and a box pops up. Clicking the Friends button gives you some options on what groups they fall in and if they’re shown in your news feed. Clicking Settings under the Show in News Feed option allows you to get more specific. This is what the spam message was encouraging us to do – turn off what those you see from the poster, not prevent inappropriate sharing!
Exactly what shows up in your Facebook News Feed is impacted by a proprietary algorithm called Edge Rank. Edge Rank effectively rates your relationship with other users based on how much you seem to like what they have to say. Using data on how often you like or comment on another individual user’s posts drives the decision to have that show or not show, so you can’t guarantee that something that you share is ever seen by another user (unless, of course, you pay for it). If you want to make sure not to miss anything from another users (your spouse or your boss, for example), check Get Notifications.
Apps are a big, secret security hole.
For all of the anxiety-raising misinformation on security that’s out there, there are some real causes of concern for your privacy that get relatively little attention. Remember that app that you allowed to access your Facebook profile while you were traveling last year? No? Well it still has access to everything you do and everyone that you know on Facebook!
With your permission, apps can get access to quite a lot of your personal information. You can manage the apps that you’ve authorized in your Facebook app settings (Privacy tools > Apps).
What most people don’t realize is that apps your friends use have access to your data as well! You can change these settings in your app settings page as well.
Protect your privacy by managing your options!
So in closing, reposting that message you saw on your News Feed about how Facebook is changing privacy isn’t really going to help you or your friends stay safer. Instead of feeding into the hysteria, remember these important steps that you can take to deny access to your information from the unwashed masses:
- Only friend people who you really know AND actually want to share things with
- Pay attention to who you’re sharing a particular post with – Public is you know, the public!
- Review all of your settings under Privacy Tools and make sure that they’re what you really want.
- Manage your Facebook app settings (Privacy tools > Apps) – control what apps can access your information and what information is shared with apps that your friends use as well!
And if you must repost something, feel free to share this blog post with your friends.