How to Stay Safe on Facebook

Facebook has recently become one of the most popular websites in the social networking revolution, with millions of new members joining within the past few years. Created in 2004 by several computer science students at Harvard University, Facebook was originally intended only for college students. The site opened its doors to all users several years ago and has seen a huge increase in the number of registered members. Most people use Facebook simply as a tool for staying connected with their friends, family, and classmates, but as with any social network, there are dangers in putting too much personal information online. Here are a few ways to protect your information (and yourself) using the built-in privacy settings of Facebook.

1. Don’t include sensitive information on your profile.

You might innocently enter information such as your phone number, physical address, and email address as you fill out your Facebook profile but you may not realize that this information can be visible to friends, friends of friends, or even strangers, depending on your privacy settings. To be sure that no one can access this kind of information, simply don’t include it on your profile. There’s no reason to list your personal phone number on a public website – if you know someone well enough to talk on the phone, there are other ways to get a hold of your number!

The same is true of email addresses; while it may seem convenient to include it on your profile, it’s a quick way to get an inbox filled with emails about Viagra. Spammers use tools that “crawl” websites looking for email addresses to spam. If your email address can be found on a public website, you can be sure that it’s being indexed by these tools. For this reason, it’s a good idea to never post your personal email address on a public website. You may even want to create a free email address at a service like Yahoo or Hotmail and use it when a website requires an email address to sign up. This will ensure that your primary personal email address isn抰 sold or indexed in any way and will remain relatively spam-free.

2. Personalize your account settings.

Facebook is notorious for changing its layout but you can currently access your account settings by clicking the “Account” button at the top right of any Facebook page and then clicking “Account Settings” in the drop-down box that appears. From this page, you can control some basic settings, including the email address that you use to login and your password. Choose a password that’s hard to crack – a combination of letters and numbers works best, while common passwords, or passwords that relate to aspects of your life or your personality, can be easily guessed by someone who really wants to get into your account.

The Account Security Option is useful in that it notifies you if your Facebook account is accessed from a new computer or mobile device, such as an iPhone. With this option enabled, you’ll be able to see if someone other than you logs into your account, but if you do choose to enable this option, remember that you’ve activated it. If you login to your account from someone else’s computer or from a new phone, you’ll receive a notification that your account has been accessed from a new device. You may not remember that you have the option enabled, which could cause undue worry.

3. Personalize your privacy settings.

You can access the Privacy Settings page by clicking “Manage” under the Privacy heading on your Account Settings page, or by selecting “Privacy Settings” from the Account drop-down button at the top right of any Facebook page. Facebook is extremely customizable in regards to these settings. Nearly every aspect of your profile can be customized to determine who can view each section. For instance, under the Personal Information and Posts heading, you can choose who will be able to see your birthday, photo albums, and posts. You can individually adjust these sections to allow everyone to view them, just friends, just friends of friends, or just friends and people in your networks. You can also choose the “Customize” option, which will allow you to individually choose who can and can’t view each section; if you just want a certain friend to be unable to see a particular section of your profile, Facebook allows you that option. It’s a good idea to explore these settings and determine what should be visible on your profile to each of your friends as well as to users who aren’t your friends.

4. Exercise caution when installing applications and games.

Facebook has implemented changes in its interface that allow program developers to publish games and other applications that can be accessed right through the Facebook website. Most of these applications are published by third-party developers, meaning that they are not officially associated with Facebook. While Facebook tries to hold all of these applications to high standards of quality, it’s always possible that some applications have less-than-perfect intentions. Some are designed to install malware to your computer, which can impede performance or even gather statistics on your internet usage.

To protect yourself from such malware, always think before installing any game or application on Facebook. Check an application’s homepage before agreeing to install it; this can aid you in determining if it’s legitimate. Even better, you can do a little research on each application before installing it by searching on Google for the name of the application. If it has been recognized as malware, you will likely find other people talking about it and warning against installing it.

Some malware applications may even perform “stealth” installs, meaning that they add themselves to your Facebook profile without your knowledge or permission. To manage your applications, click the Account drop-down button at the top right of any Facebook page and select Application Settings. From this page, you can view all the applications that you’ve installed and remove them if you’d like. You can also view the profile page for each application and set its visibility options. The default view only shows the last 10 applications that you used so you may have to choose different options from the “Show” drop-down box on the right to see all your applications. This is a quick and easy way to make sure that nothing has been installed without your permission.

Facebook is a great tool not only for keeping in touch with friends and family, but for general networking as well. Follow these simple guidelines to ensure that you’re getting the best Facebook experience while avoiding the potential dangers.

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