Facebook Privacy Rears Its Ugly Head... Again
I have written
about Facebook privacy issues in the past, but it’s time to bring this subject
to the attention of parents once again. Just a few weeks ago Facebook made news
being shared with others. If you have teens using this enormously popular social
networking service, you would do well to spend a few minutes with them to
discover what has changed.
can’t exactly tell you everything that is different, but I do know this... when
I logged into my own account the other day (I’m lucky if I get on there once a
month) I was met with a screen that asked me something about if I wanted to use
Facebook’s recommended settings for their new privacy categories, or if I wanted
to keep my old ones. I told it I wanted to keep things the way they were, but
unless I can’t read properly, that’s not what happened. After logging in, I went
into the new and “improved” privacy settings and discovered some gaping holes I
needed to plug.
While I have little
to share on my personal Facebook profile, my kids, their friends, and likely
your kids, are different stories. Most teens think nothing of uploading
literally hundreds, if not thousands, of photos. If you’re lucky, most of these
will be the usual benign shots of friends hanging out at the mall, eating fast
food and sticking French Fries up their noses. However, some photos reveal more
personal aspects of a teen’s life. Chances are, many of these photos may now be
open for the world to see, unless you manually change the privacy settings.
They may also be at
risk of sharing other information and comments between “friends” with a much
wider audience than they anticipated. For some of these areas of a user’s
Facebook profile, you can control what gets shared. But the new changes have
made it nearly impossible to control other information.
Let’s start with
what you can change...
Log into your (or
your teen’s) profile. Look for the link near the upper right side of the browser
window that says “Settings”. If you hover your mouse over that link, a little
drop down menu will appear. One of the items on that menu says “Privacy
Settings”. Click on that, and you will be sent to the privacy area of the
account you are logged into.
Within the context
of this article, I cannot walk you through every setting, but you should pay
close attention to each of the listed areas on the Privacy Settings page. The
real trick is to help your kids (and perhaps yourself) recognize how the
settings for most of the areas work. You are given a choice of sharing
information with only your friends, friends of friends, or everyone. It’s that
middle choice that gets many people in trouble.
“Everyone” setting obviously opens your information to the world, many people
see “Friends-of Friends” as being more benign. That often isn’t the case. While
you may think you know all the friends of your friends, you may want to
do a little math first...
How many friends
does your teen have on Facebook?
Statistics posted on the site indicated the
average user has 130 friends. My kids are each in the 300+ range, and from what
I hear it’s not uncommon for many of their friends to have over 500 virtual
calculation at the more conservative level of 130 friends, and if each of those
friends have 130 friends, that creates a network of 16,900 people! If your teens
are more aggressive at collecting Facebook friends, and have the same number as
my kids -- about 300 -- and their friends had the same number, the “Friends of
Friends” network would reach 90,000 “friends.”
Do you really
know all these people?
Be very careful
about selecting “Friends of Friends” for any Facebook settings. I only have my
website information set to “Friends of Friends”, meaning that is the only piece
of information I’m willing to have 90,000-plus people know about me (aside from
my name and profile photo -- the latter being another concern I’ll address in a
I also allow
“Everyone” to be able to add me as a friend or to send me a message from the
Facebook search results. However, if you are uncomfortable with anyone being
able to send your child a “Friend” invitation, you can (and should) change this
Here are a couple
of other tricky loopholes where your information may be leaked. Go into the
“Applications and Websites” settings. Click on the “Edit Settings” button on the
“What Friends Can Share About You” line. Here you will see a list of the
different aspects of your profile that will be shared by 3rd party Facebook
applications. I can’t provide a long explanation as to what all this means, but
the bottom line is your kids may authorize other “mini” programs within Facebook
to have access to information within their profiles. Simply put, any information
you didn’t want to share in your profile privacy settings should also be turned
off here. Again, I am very conservative and have chosen to only share limited
information with applications within Facebook.
Another big issue
is the privacy settings on photos. Since Facebook made the changes a few weeks
ago, I can now view the photo albums of many of my “Friends of Friends.” If you
don’t want those bikini photos of last summer’s beach trip out in the wild, go
to the Profile Information section of the Privacy Settings. Scroll down toward
the bottom of the page and look for the Photo Albums setting. The button to
control these says “Edit Settings.” After clicking on it, you’ll be led to
another sub-menu where you can see settings for your profile pictures and each
of your photo albums.
While many people
will limit their photo albums to only friends (if you haven’t you should
seriously consider doing so), they will unwittingly accept Facebook’s default
setting of “Friends of Friends” for their profile pictures.
Personally, I have
only one photo in my “Profile Pictures” photo album, and it’s the one the world
will see if they search me on Facebook. However, some people have a habit of
dumping dozens of pictures into the Profile Pictures album. If you accept
Facebook’s default setting, all of these photos are visible to a vast audience.
My recommendation is that you only keep one or a few photos in the profile
album, and make sure they are ones you want the world to see. Keep those awkward
beach shots, or any other photos that reveal private information about you or
others, in albums that are limited to viewing by only your friends. (Remember,
your main profile photo is always available for the world to see. The
only way you can prevent this is to not have a profile photo at all.)
Finally, be aware
of what you can no longer change. Here is a snippet from the site’s privacy
Certain categories of information such as your name, profile photo, list of
friends and pages you are a fan of, gender, geographic region, and networks you
belong to are considered publicly available to everyone, including Facebook-enhanced
applications, and therefore do not have privacy settings. You can, however,
limit the ability of others to find this information through search using your
search privacy settings.
How does this
paragraph affect you? A common example involves Facebook networks and fan pages.
In case you aren’t aware, there is a fan page or network for just about every
interest and pastime you can think of. If you have chosen to join any of these
on Facebook, you can no longer keep this a secret. Considering some of the names
of these groups could reveal personal information about your interests and
affiliations, you may want to seriously consider where you place your
Other changes: You
can no longer prevent all your Facebook activity from appearing on your
profile’s wall. If you want to delete items, you must do so manually -- one at a
time. Your friend list is also now considered public property... anyone can see
who your friends are.
I have covered a
lot here, but I must have you consider one final thing: Facebook CEO Mark
Zuckerberg is god of this virtual world. With the strike of his mouse, he can
(and will) make future changes. Don’t assume anything you put on Facebook (or
any other social networking site) won’t be public information tomorrow. It’s his
baby, and he owes you nothing to use this free service. Paraphrasing what I
heard someone say, a wise user of this site wouldn’t write or post anything on
Facebook that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of USA Today.
If you don’t want
your (or your teen’s) words of opinion or photos to be tomorrow’s news, you
would be wise to pull them off of Facebook. Remember the ultimate “click” is
under the “Settings” menu and “Account Settings.” Scroll to the bottom of the
page and you’ll find “Deactivate Account.” Click on the “deactivate” link, and
your complete profile will vanish... along with all your Facebook privacy
Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews® - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.
and the Media by Rod Gustafson
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