Tuesday, March 3, 2009

10 Steps to Sharing and Protecting Yourself on Facebook

Since its inception serving only one university, Facebook has grown to include millions of members by connecting family, friends, and colleagues. According to the Calgary Herald, Facebook boasted 1.2 billion visits during the first month of 2009. And as the tentacles of Facebook expand so should your commitment to protecting your online presence.

Personally, I signed up for Facebook, FB for short, using a pseudonym and had only planned on investigating the service. But lured by the possibility of finding a grade-school friend, I edited my account to include my real name – within hours, and after 20 years, I was ‘talking’ to my friend. And, as I typed through a well of tears, I quickly forgot that I am a very private person. When my friend connected me with the next of my beloved grade-school friends I forgot that I hold very few people in confidence. And when a class picture was posted, the three of us bypassed any modicum of privacy and posted detailed comments to the picture.

And then, we remembered - Facebook is an open form of social networking and the default privacy settings reflect that spirit.

So, if you are new to Facebook, there are 10 things to keep in mind before you accept your first Facebook Friend Request:

  1. Know what you want to expose
    Determine if you will be using Facebook for personal or professional exposure. The default account is a personal account. A personal account, in turn, can manage a personal profile and Facebook Pages. A profile contains the personal information you will share with FB friends and family; a Page represents a business or organization and does not interact with the personal profile. Facebook also offers business-only accounts.

  2. Define your concept of a Facebook friend
    Having a rough idea of your friend list will help you customize your privacy settings. Will your friend list include family, friends, past co-workers, current co-workers, your children’s teachers, and your priest?

  3. Familiarize yourself with the privacy settings
    Facebook’s privacy levels span from wide to granular. You can choose to share your profile, and its individual components, with anyone who has Internet access; or can limit access to FB networks, groups, friends, and friend of those friends; or can specify FB friends with whom to share.

    Personally, I recently viewed the cutest picture of a friend’s son mastering his potty, but wondered if my friend knew of the privacy settings available on his account. For example, Facebook allows users to create photo albums and place different security levels on each album. So, conceivably, a user can have pictures available for everyone to see and pictures only available to grandpa and grandma.

  4. Remember that “Friends of Friends” are not necessarily your friends
    Are you a person who would not tell your friends’ co-workers, whom you do not know, what you did last weekend? Depending on your privacy setting, and those of your FB friends’, that is exactly what you may be doing. So remember to set your privacy settings according to your comfort level.

  5. Manage your friend list
    When you first start using Facebook, you will undoubtedly get a rush as your FB friend list grows. But remember that you don’t have to accept every friend request nor feel guilty about not doing so. If the request comes from someone who doesn’t fit your definition of a FB friend, don’t accept it. Rest easy - the requester will not get notification that you rejected his request. However, since the requester may notice that you are still not FB friends and may re-send the request, consider leaving the unanswered request alone – don’t ignore it or confirm it.

  6. Deleting a FB friend is not impolite
    Ok, I admit it, I have deleted FB friends – but that doesn’t mean that they are not my real-life friends. For example, I deleted a close friend because one of her friends kept posting comments that irritated me. Yes, I could have diminished my friend’s presence on my News Feed. Yes, I would have stopped hunting for her friend’s most current, bone-headed comment. In the end, however, there was only one solution; I politely hit the ‘remove’ key on a friend with whom I still lunch.

  7. Be careful of what you share
    Be aware that companies, or their hiring partners, run online searches on candidates prior to hiring them – as a past hiring partner, I did. If your settings are not tight, hiring authorities may see material that you would not have readily shared with them. Also, be wary of posting anything that reveals your schedule. Are you comfortable revealing that you will be on vacation and that your security system is broken? If not, don’t post it.

  8. Monitor what others share about you
    Unfortunately, the definition of an open, social networking site means that you don’t have control over the material that others post about you. And, while you might have had no qualms about posing for a certain picture, you may not want it shared with your FB friends or their friends’ friends. If you find a posting, whether a picture, comment, note, video, or status, to which you object, politely ask your FB friend to remove it. At the very least, if you are tagged on a picture, you can remove the tag so the picture will not be linked to your profile.

  9. Don’t assume that your data belongs to you
    Once you enter data into your Facebook experience it is debatable to whom that data belongs and deactivating or deleting your account does not necessarily delete that data.

    First, be aware that deactivating your account does not delete your information. Instead, your profile is made inaccessible to Facebook users but the data is maintained should you reactivate your account.

    Second, even if you delete your account, don’t assume that your information isn’t already duplicated, in part on in whole, elsewhere. Notably, the cute applications provided by Facebook are written and managed by third-parties who can access your data and have your permission to do so – remember clicking the ‘allow’ button?

    Even more alarming, Facebook recently changed its Terms of Service back to its original version after users expressed concern over Facebook’s intended and explicit ownership of user-generated content.

    Third, it's safe to say that nothing is hacker-proof – don’t assume that your data hasn’t already been mined by an industrious hacker running a simple shell script against Facebook or its third-party partners.

  10. Monitor your online presence regularly
    Regardless of whether you choose to join Facebook or not, be aware of what a personal Google search would produce. You can automate this endeavor by signing up for Google Alerts, a service which notifies you if noted search parameters appear on a current Google search. For example, you can set an alert to notify you by e-mail or RSS feed if you, your business, or email address shows up on a current website page.
When in doubt as what to share, be prudent. Personally, after four months of actively posting on Facebook, I’ve developed the following rule: if I wouldn’t share a post with my grandma, my boss, a client, and a local criminal, I don’t post it. Does that make me a prude? Perhaps – but my real-life friends love me anyway.

(Photo Credit: jaycameron on Flickr)

1 comment:

Paulina @ The Honored Quill said...

I just received my weekly email for Google Alerts. I love the service; it noted a posting I have made on a blog which I had already forgotten.