Concerns over Facebook privacy settings have increased steadily, with more and more mainstream media running stories about the issues. Although it is possible to more or less “lockdown” your privacy settings, Facebook makes frequent changes that may require you to review these settings on a regular basis. CNET recently discussed the controversy and suggested two tools to help determine and lockdown your current privacy settings. These tools include SaveFace (a browser helper tool) and a privacy scanning tool from ReclaimPrivacy.org.
I thought it would be useful to share some “safe practices” we created to help Rochester Institute of Technology students practice safer(r) social networking. (It’s never going to be completely Safe.)
Protecting Your Information: Safe Practices
Keeping your information out of the wrong hands can be fairly easy if you adopt a cautious attitude. Here are some tips to make sure your private information stays private.
Don’t Post Personal Information Online!
It’s the easiest way to keep your information private. Don’t post your full birth date, your address, phone numbers, etc. Don’t hesitate to ask friends to remove embarrassing or sensitive information about you from their posts either.
Use Built-In Privacy Settings
Most social networking sites offer various ways in which you can restrict public access to your profile, such only allowing your “friends” to view your profile. Of course, this only works if you only allow a few people to see your postings-if you have 10,000 “friends” your privacy won’t be very well protected. Your best bet is to disable all the extra options, and re-enable only the ones you know you’ll use. These best practices can be applied to any social networking or blogging website.
Be Wary of Others
Research by Sophos (2007) found that 41% of Facebook users were willing to befriend a plastic green frog named Freddi Staur (an anagram of ID Fraudster), subsequently revealing their personal information. Most sites do not have a rigorous process to verify identity of members so always be cautious when dealing with unfamiliar people online.
Search for Yourself
Find out what information other people have easy access to. Put your name into Google (make sure to use quotes around your name). Try searching for your nicknames, phone numbers, and addresses as well-you might be surprised at what you find. If you don’t want your content publicly searchable, many blogging sites have instructions on how to exclude your posts from appearing in search engine results using something called a “robots text file.”
What Happens on the Web, Stays on the Web
Before posting anything online, remember the maxim “what happens on the web, stays on the web.” Information on the Internet is public and available for anyone to see, and security is never perfect. With browser caching and server backups, there is a good chance that what you post will circulate on the web for years to come. So be safe and think twice about anything you post online.