I admit it. I’m slightly addicted to logging in to Facebook. I love the ability to reconnect with old friends and learn more about new ones, to take a glimpse into their lives and give them an opportunity to learn a bit more about me. But with that openness comes certain risks and privacy concerns.
With the news that Facebook plans on sharing users’ home addresses and phone numbers (along with all the other private information it already shares) with external sites, the danger of your personally identifiable information landing in nefarious hands is getting greater and greater. So here are some tips to help those who aren’t quite ready to ditch their Facebook page, but still want to maintain at least some of their privacy and surf Facebook safely:
1. Only log onto Facebook using its secure site.
Does your browser say “https://www.facebook.com” in the address bar? If not, you’re logging in through an insecure connection. That little “s” at the end of “http” is extremely important (as it is on banking, online shopping, and other such websites where you enter personal information).
There is a simple fix to beef up your safety on Facebook:
- a. Go to “Account”
- b. Go to “Account Settings”
- c. Scroll down to “Account Security” and click “change”
- d. Enable “Browse Facebook on a secure connection (https) whenever possible”
- e. Enable “Send me an email when a new account or computer logs into this account”
2. Turn off instant personalization.
If you don’t know what instant personalization is, don’t feel alone; there are a lot of people in the same boat. Facebook describes it as a tool that “lets you see relevant information about your friends the moment you arrive on select partner websites.” Sounds innocuous enough, right? Wrong.
This tool allows Facebook and its “partner websites” to track the websites you and your friends visit and reveal what you look at, what you search for, what you buy, and other personal information about your internet usage. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my Amazon, Bing, or TripAdvisor activity tracked and sent to anyone else, Facebook friend or not.
What’s really tricky about this tracking tool is that you have to actually go into your settings and turn it off because Facebook automatically enables the tool without your approval. This is how it’s disabled:
- a. Go to “Account”
- b. Go to “Privacy Settings”
- c. Scroll down to “Apps, Games, and Websites” at the bottom of the page and click “Edit your settings”
- d. Go to “Instant Personalization” and click “Edit Settings”
- e. Disable the box that reads “Enable instant personalization on partner websites”
3. Tighten up your security settings
a. Info can be accessible through a friend’s page. Even if you might restrict a third party’s access to your information, that doesn’t mean they can’t access your information via a friend’s page. Yes, you’ve read right. You need to go through your privacy settings and restrict “info accessible through your friends.” Until you actually disable this feature, the information that you reveal about yourself is unprotected.
b. Turn off the public search option. This is a must do for anyone who doesn’t want people to be able to just Google their name and find their Facebook page, especially if it could be a potential employer. This is how it’s disabled:
- i. Go to “Account”
- ii. Go to “Privacy Settings”
- iii. Scroll down to “Apps, Games, and Websites” at the bottom of the page and click “Edit your settings”
- iv. Go to “Public Search” and disable the option
4. Do not use your real name as your Facebook screen name.
Think of something witty like “Angelina Pitt” or “Indiana Ford”… anything. I know that Facebook requires you to use your real name when registering, but quite frankly, what Facebook does know can hurt you and hinder your privacy. Not using your real name makes it harder for people to find you, which can be a great thing for the working professional, and makes it harder for criminals to use your information against your best interest.
If you have already set up a Facebook account with your real name, you can easily change it: just go to “Account,” “Account Settings,” and next to “Name,” click “Change.”
5. Reduce the amount of private details that you reveal about yourself.
a. This one is pretty simple. Don’t include your full birth date (only the month and day), where you currently live, your phone number, address, or where you work. These are pieces of information that open you up to identity theft and aren’t really necessary for your Facebook friends to know about you.
b. Never announce when you’re going on a trip or going to be away from your home. Announcing a vacation through Facebook is like putting a sign outside your home or on your car telling thieves, “Hey, I’m not home! Please come steal from me!” I know you’re excited about that trip to a fabulous Jamaican resort, but save sharing your glee with your Facebook friends until after you get back.
c. Be selective about who you add as a friend. There are many reasons for having thousands of Facebook friends. It can be an indicator of one’s popularity or because someone wants to promote their business. But with a slew of new friends that you might or might not have ever actually met comes the danger of exposing yourself to criminal elements or dangerous people. Be smart about who you “friend” online and in real life.
With the many changes Facebook has made to its privacy policies in recent months, many people are confused and worried about the personal information that is being shared. But with proper knowledge and implementation of privacy security settings, you can remain a step ahead. I hope that you’ve found these five tips helpful. Please remember, Facebook can be an awesome tool and a fun escape, but as in every other aspect of your life you must protect yourself and use it with caution.
Have fun, be safe, and see you on the Web!
Latoya Livingston is a Washington, D.C.-based attorney with years of experience working in the public and private sector. Attorney Livingston joins MMTC after performing pro bono work for the organization last year.