There are more ways than ever to share information online, from billion dollar corporations interacting with customers online to teenagers hashing gossip about high school drama. Of the hundreds of social media networking services available, Facebook is still the platform with the widest reach. According to its first quarter 2013 report, the social networking giant had 1.11 billion users as of March 2013. And with developers releasing regular updates to make sharing and engagement easier, it’s relatively simple to upload a picture, post an article, or share check-ins at local businesses.
With that ease, however, come growing privacy and security concerns. Users are often opted in to features and programs without being informed of what they have been opted in to. Many features and programs share user data with other websites to provide “personalized content,” and users have to expressly opt out of these in order to protect personal data.
While Facebook has taken steps to make its security settings easier to navigate, controlling and managing personal information still requires a fair amount of clicking and digging through menus. This article will hopefully make that process less daunting and empower users to take more control of their online privacy.
We’ll be looking at several main areas of Facebook’s Account Setting page, which can be accessed from the gear-like tools menu in the upper right-hand corner of the main toolbar.
Securing a Facebook Account
There are several steps to begin securing a Facebook account. To start, there are several options under Security Settings in the Account Settings menu that first need to be tweaked:
• Secure Browsing. This allows users to browse Facebook on a secure “https” (“Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure”) connection. This option is especially recommended for users on unsecured or “open” Wi-Fi networks, such as at coffee shops and some workplaces.
• Login Notifications. Facebook will send an email and/or text message if an account is logged in to from a new device or browser.
• Login Approvals. This enables two-factor verification whenever a user logs in from a new device or unknown browser. It requires the user to enter a security code sent to a mobile phone—useful for preventing another user from logging in with a stolen password.
• Active Sessions. This area is useful if there’s suspicion that account security has been compromised. If an unfamiliar device or location appears, simply click “End Activity.”
The Facebook Apps section is essential for users who use their account to log in to websites. Permissions can be changed or deleted, and it’s recommended to review these regularly and remove unused applications. It’s also wise to uncheck everything under “Apps others use” to ensure that apps and websites aren’t accessing personal information, as well as turn off “Instant personalization.”
The Facebook Ads section is also important to edit, as these settings for social plugins and social ads are automatically set to “Only to friends.” To opt out, users have to manually select “No One” for both options to prevent their “likes” from being shown to other users.
Of course, the best tip for securing any Internet account is to use a strong password. This consists of nine characters or more, contains a combination of numbers, upper and lowercase letters and punctuation, and could not be guessed based on personal information. Change every 2-3 months.
This is the next area after Security Settings. Here, users can set defaults for how visible they would like to be on the site. There are generally three options to choose from: Everyone, Friends of Friends, and Friends.
There are two areas to edit. The first is appropriately called: Who can see my stuff? There are two options to set—the first is to determine who can see posts and status updates, and another to globally change the visibility of past posts and updates. A third option takes users to the Activity Log, which can also be accessed from the main timeline page.
The second area, Who can look me up?, is important to users most concerned about their privacy. There are three options to set: who can search for a user by the email used to set up the Facebook account, who can look up a user by name (it’s recommended to set these to “Friends Only”), and whether a user wants their timeline to show up in search engine results (set this to “Off”).
The best rule to keep in mind concerning content on Facebook is that any link, status update, or photo posted on a user’s timeline shows up in the News Feed. Even content that is hidden from a user’s timeline will still appear elsewhere on the site.
Each area of content on a timeline can be edited by clicking on the pencil icon next to a section. Users can edit which sections to display or hide from their Timeline, as well as whom to make information available to, by clicking the “Edit” button next to the main heading. A deeper level of security and customization is available by editing each subsection to further manage visibility.
The audience for each post can also be customized, either when posting or changed at a later date. However, Facebook uses the most recent privacy setting for posts, so users should always double check which option is selected before posting. For example, if one update was made Public, all subsequent updates will be Public until that setting is changed to “Friends Only.”
Timeline and Tagging
Most of the options here are fairly self-explanatory and self-guiding thanks to some good design from Facebook Web developers, but there are a few key areas to pay attention to. Turn on the option that requires a user to review tagged posts before they appear on the timeline.
Users can further define who can see tagged posts, and who can see what others post on a user’s timeline. With these options turned on, users will receive notifications about tagged posts to review, as well as notifications in the Activity Log.
In essence, this is a section for any user who is particularly brand or image conscious to spend a few minutes considering.
The only recommendation is to set “Tags” (under the section What You Get Notified About) to “Everyone.”
The question for any user to ask in reviewing these protocols is, “How visible do I want to be online?” The answer depends on the reason and aim for engaging with social media in the first place, but for the individual user, it’s wise to be as guarded and careful with personal information as possible.