Six Facebook privacy tools to protect you

Don’t get me wrong…. growth continued non-stop in 2010, but last year was not a good one for Facebook. Everyone, from Hollywood, privacy advocates to US Senators was on its case for something or other. However, the biggest issue by far was privacy. As Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, now infamously declared during an interview, privacy is no longer a “social norm.”

This is an attitude that most users of Facebook — for whom privacy is still a social norm — have come to know at the various turns when Facebook has amended its privacy policies with no proper warning to users. Furthermore, not only have they have changed privacy settings, but they have made changing them back to a secure setting a veritable Olympic event.

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In the face of these problems, many have turned to entirely deleting their account from Facebook, an option which isn’t the “deactivate account” option which is clearly displayed, but one you have to specifically apply to.

Be that as it may, most of us, including myself, maybe unhappy with Facebook, but we are are addicted. When the notion of permanently deleting my account comes up, I immediately come up with various excuses as to why I can’t do it — commonly referred to as “clutching at straws.” In such cases, all is not lost. With careful use of the tools that Facebook essentially hides from us, we can continue to use the service without having to become party to this ‘new’ social norm.

Facebook friend lists
Facebook has now gotten to the point where all aspects of ones life are reflected on it. It is now practically taken as a social norm to ‘friend’ people. From friends from high school and college, to family members and business colleagues, all these people now expect some acknowledgement on Facebook. However, the difficulty is what to do when a business colleague for instance, sends you a friend request and ignoring it would be too rude? It’s in this case that Facebook friends lists are useful.

As Facebook describes them, their friends lists “allow you to create private groupings of friends based on your personal preferences,” and for each group, you can personalise privacy settings. So you can “allow” the Family group to see all photo’s you post but choose on an album by album, picture by picture basis which, if any, your colleagues can see.

Come off Facebook search
Facebook search is a very useful tool when wanting to get hold of someone on Facebook. However, it is entirely plausible that you may not want to be found on Facebook. In that instance, you can opt out of being featured in Facebook search. This option essentially makes it as though you are not on Facebook when your name is searched. This is simply done by visiting the Search Settings section of your privacy page and under “search visibility” allowing “only friends” to search for your page.

Come off Google search
Googling a person is now a regularly done, but not often admitted to action and the fact is that, living such digital lives, we can’t really control what information is shown about us on Google. However, allowing your Facebook profile to show up on Google searches — usually as the first result — in effect puts everything you have chosen to put about yourself on Facebook, on to Google. To me this is as basic a privacy setting as closing your profile to only being viewed by friends only and one that should be done, and is easily done so by under the “Apps, Games & Websites” option in your Privacy settings, changing the “Public Search” option.

Protect pictures
The digital age has turned everyone into the tourist of their own livesm eager to document every moment. This, more than anything, is done through pictures and more than anything else on Facebook, trouble is caused by pictures. One night of ill-thought revelry can come back to haunt you a few days later when those pictures you didn’t know had been taken pop-up on Facebook. When you decide to untag yourself from a picture — the option which immediately comes to mind — it essentially makes the picture vanish off into the ether of the internet where you have no control over it, but there are other options available to you.

Under your Privacy Page, you can change the settings of who can view the pictures you have tagged of yourself, from allowing friends of friends, only specific friends, or only yourself to view them. Of course, if these are pictures uploaded by another user, they also exert some control over them.

Protect albums
An example of something akin to dirty tricks by Facebook is the privacy settings of albums. It would seem obvious that if you have already set your profile information to some degree of privacy, any albums you may have uploaded on the site should be equally protected. However, that is not how it is. Many people are unaware that you have to go to each album individually, on the Photo Privacy page, and set it to the level of privacy you are comfortable with.

Edit story visibility
In furtherance of the idea that we are all the celebrities of our own lives, everything we do on Facebook is a ‘story’ for the news feeds for all your friends. Therefore, everything you do on and connected to Facebook, such as ‘liking’ an application or webpage appears on Facebook. There was the memorable case of the “Have Sex” application which was created for no other reason than to embarrass by publishing the line “(Your name) is Having Sex”, when ‘liked.’

However the one ‘story’ over which countless hours of hand-wringing have been spent is the celebrated or accursed, depending on what point of the relationship you’re in, changing of your relationship status.

Previously this was easily remedied under the options in the News Feed and Wall Privacy settings, which (as Facebook removed it) is now a little more difficult. One must now visit the Privacy Settings and under customise, you can set you set your relationship status to only be viewable by yourself. Therefore, should you change your relationship status, it will not be seen by anyone besides yourself, and of course the other party in the relationship.

These are only six tools that you can use which will allow you to use Facebook as freely as you wish, and not as freely as Mark Zuckeberg wishes. The best thing to do is to take 30 minutes and go through the privacy settings of Facebook and acquaint yourself. Essentially be vigilant, because when it comes to Facebook and privacy, it’s you against Mark.

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