5 Essential Ways to Protect Yourself on Facebook

by Latoya Livingston on March 17, 2011

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

    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.

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  • WOWsers

    GREAT article!!!! Wow… super informative… I’m going to make these changes now!

  • Jim

    This is the best article on online usage I have read in months! Thank you Ms Livingston.

  • Wowsers

    I wholeheartedly agree!

  • Guest

    Its kind of creepy how much information Facebook (and others e.g. Google) are able to collect without our knowledge – information that others are able to trace back to a single user. This is a great article about how users can restrict access to the information that they know is being used, but for those who don’t read this article, these privacy policies are not readily transparent.

    I hope Congress and the FTC begin implementing online privacy laws soon. We should be able to know and have control over how our information is collected and used (whether by the company or sold to a third party).

  • John_Q_Public

    Thanks! These are great tips. I’m going to update my Facebook settings now.

  • S. Witter

    Great info — I hadn’t thought of some of this. Will pass along to my co-workers & friends!

  • FussAndHoller

    I had a Facebook page, but not any more. I just decided it provided too much exposure in a number of ways.

    That it takes all this to protect yourself on Facebook reinforces, in my mind, that I made the right decision to kill my page.

  • Frederick Johnson

    This article is excellent. I immediately acted on it. Thank you Attorney Livingston

  • JCraigDC

    Great article. I’ve been telling people for a while, if you don’t want Facebook to know about it, don’t put it out there.

  • DianneG

    So true! We gotta be more careful about these social networking sites. Privacy and protection is paramount.

  • It is possible

    WOW!!! This is very informative. I literally went through all the instructions provided and disabled all the enabled settings. Truly, knowledge is power! Thanks Attorney Livingston!!!

  • Lillettelivingston

    This is powerful information. I will certainly make good use of it. Attorney Livingston , Thank you so much. I will also tell my friends about it. Lil.

  • Mitch

    Facebook … it freaks me out!

    I like the idea, but talking publicly with friends and family, with few, if any, privacy safeguards, I think people will come to regret it.

  • http://open.salon.com/blog/stlfilmaker Phillip

    i have issues with Facebook along the same line, i have come to believe wrote in a short blog that Facebook may be an unwitting co-conspirator in one of the great opportunities for identity theft, and the spread of computer virusus. The mere fact that so many people put their information out there, for example if one puts a post saying he is flying to Miami to watch the Bulls and the Heat game May 15, – if that person has their name and city and date of birth on their face book page, a skilled hacker has enough information to get a lot of data….nice post!

  • http://miamilimo.net/ Tom Righter

    Wow! I’ve been a long time user of facebook and whatever points you pointed here makes me educated. Would like to apply all of your provided points as well as beneficial. Thanks mate. 

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