Monday, May 31, 2010

The 'new' Facebook privacy settings...what's it mean this time?!

A year or so ago, the phenomenon of social networking that is Facebook finally made it's way to our door.  Being the geek of the house, it was up to me to determine just what it was all about and educate the people around me to the insidious dangers like 'Farm-ville' that lurk within!

In the beginning it seemed like a fairly easy thing to get a handle on.  Make sure all your privacy settings are ramped up to "double-layer tin foil hat", and you're pretty much set.

Problem is, every few months Facebook seems to find a reason to 'revamp' their privacy framework.  The 'proper' way to setup the new configuration has not always been evident.  Even worse, the 'paranoid' settings that you may have configured into the old system, are not always carried over into the new.

This past week Facebook started rolling out yet another privacy settings framework.  Primarily in response to user outrage over previous privacy issues.  Whether you weren't aware things had changed, or were but hadn't taken the time to look the new settings over; I thought I'd prod you along.

Following general sys admin type guidelines, you can keep yourself secure by following a process that goes something like this:

Step 1: Restrict all access (deny all)

Step 2: Add access to only the people that should have access.

Step 3: Verify by viewing the system from an outside account.

So, lets look at the new settings pages and see how we can do that!

First, you can access the 'Privacy Settings' page for your Facebook account by clicking on the 'Account' menu option on the upper right hand corner of  your Facebook page, then selecting....well...... 'Privacy Settings'.  That part was tricky ;)

This selection will take you to the main settings page where most of the page is dedicated to the 'Sharing on Facebook' settings.  This page was designed to be simpler, and more transparent concerning all settings.  What you see on the left are very simple, easy to select, one-click security options.  Click on 'Everyone' and you'll see all the little tick boxes move over to the 'Everyone' column.  Click on 'Friends of Friends' and they move to the 'Friends of Friends' get the idea.

You'll also notice a 'Recommended' option.  This yields a mix of all three.  They are the settings that Facebook would recommend you use to keep a sense of openness in the system, while still keeping some things, not quite private enough IMHO.  You can also go for a 'Custom' setting, where you can pick and choose each piece of information, and who can see it.  This does take away the nice and easy one click interface, but it's good to see the option is there.  The nice thing is you can fiddle with it until you like it, but not have to commit until clicking the 'Apply These Settings' button.

Next, take a look at the very top of the page.  You probably overlooked the 'Basic Directory Information' section.  Clicking on the 'View Settings' option here takes you to this page:

The settings here control what others can see if they are, presumably, trying to find you on Facebook.  Make you selections here carefully.  It may be that you don't want to be found, if so, this is the place to set everything to 'Friends Only'.  I tend to want to give people enough information to determine if I'm the person they are looking for or not.  So seeing my hometown, current town, common friends that we might have is usually enough.  The best part of this page is the 'Preview My Profile' button right there at the top.  With that, you can see what any old internet stalker, errr, potential friend might see if they searched for you.  It's up to you to decide if it's too much, or not enough information.

Back on the main Privacy Settings Page, you'll also see a few other configuration pages that can be reached from links along the bottom.  Such as the 'Block Lists' page:

From here you can block individuals as Facebook users or block their email addresses.  You can block applications from accessing your information.... Oh No, not Farm-ville !?!  And even block application invites from individuals.  This page, is your mute button!

The last page to consider is the 'Applications and Websites' page:

This may be the most important page of all.  A great deal of the uproar in recent weeks has been due to the added ability of not just Facebook applications, but even outside websites, to glean your personal information.  Facebook likes to call this 'Instant Personalization'.  Because it's supposed to be real important to me that when I go to sites like that it immediately shows me items pertinent to my locale and personal preferences.  No thanks, I'll take the 10 seconds to enter in my location and what I'm looking for myself!  Again, look closely at the settings in this page.  Even applications that your friends run in Facebook can access your personal information if you don't limit their access here under the 'Info accessible through your friends' settings!

Sorry, but I really don't think your Mafia Wars needs access to my Photos, more less my Religious and Political views!

The bottom line is be an adult about it.  And if your kids use it, well, you'll have to be an adult about it for them too!  We live in a digitally connected world.  The benefits, and dangers are boundless.  Educate your self, be aware, and use caution.  Facebook undoubtedly holds many benefits for most of us.  If you find that the potential threats to your privacy are too great and outweigh the benefits, then quit it.  I face dangers everyday when I get in my car and drive down the highway, that doesn't mean that I'm going to stop driving.  But I also don't drive around with my eyes closed either.

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