Facebook Privacy Toolkit

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Sure, you like to share. But maybe not with everyone. And let’s face it, if you post something on the Internet, and that includes Facebook, there’s no guarantee it will stay private; other people can pass on what you said. But you can still try to maximize your privacy on the leading social network by following these tips.

1. Create Block Lists

Go into your Privacy Settings from the Account menu (this is easiest on a desktop or laptop system, not on a phone) and look for Block Lists at the bottom. Here you can block individual users by name or e-mail, block invites to applications from certain users, invites to events from certain users, and best of all, block applications you never want to hear from again. This also prevents that app from using your information.

2. Limit Application Data Use

On that same Privacy Settings page, click the edit link for Applications and Websites. You can’t limit who can see your picture, name, gender or networks you belong to, but everything else can be limited so apps can’t get the data (nor can your friends, or friends of friends). For example, the Instant Personalization feature is great if you want sites like Bing, Rotten Tomatoes, or Pandora to instantly know you based on your Facebook settings. Click the Edit Settings button for “Info accessible through your friends” and uncheck most of those, so your data doesn’t become available to apps you’re not even playing—it happens when your friends use them!

3. Limit Who Finds You

At the top of the Privacy Settings page, click View Settings under Connecting on Facebook. This page lets you control who can find you on Facebook through search, who can send you messages or friend requests, and even whether they can see what town you live in. The choices are to let everyone see these things, friends only, friends of friends, or friends and other members of your network. If you go with friends only, that’s the smallest group that can interact with you and limits people finding or asking to be your friend…but maybe you don’t want any more friends.

4. Make Your Sharing Private

It flies in the face of the social aspect of social networking, but it’s possible you don’t want everyone to read or see everything you post. Click the Custom button under Sharing on Facebook (still on the Privacy Settings page), and you can limit who sees your status updates and photos, your biographical and contact information, even pictures you’ve been tagged in by others. And of course, it limits who can comment on all of the above. Again, you can set it so Everyone can see them, all the way down the scale to Friends Only.

5. Don’t Let Them Say Where You Are

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Places is for Facebook users to specify where they are when updating (a la Four Square). However, they can also tag you as being with them—even if you’re not. It’s all fun and games until someone says you were at a brothel when you were actually visiting your grandmother. Go to the Customize Settings page, under Things Others Share, and take the time to edit the “Friends can check me into Places.” This is also where you specify whether others can post on your Facebook wall, or can tag you in videos and photos. The less they can, the less exposed you are to non-friends.

6. Limit Your Contact Info

Chances are slim that anyone outside your circle needs your phone numbers, street address, IM name, or e-mail—if they’re really your friends, they already have it. Make sure all of the above are set to Friends Only, or at most, Friends of Friends, unless you want to be wide-open to contact by anyone and everyone.

7. Pick Viewing Permissions Per Post

When you update your status in Facebook, below the box you fill in there’s a little icon of a padlock with a down-arrow next to it. This is a dropdown menu that lets you choose who can see this status, from everyone down to Friends Only. If you click customize, you can specify that it also gets shared with certain networks you belong to, or block individual people from seeing it (so that your ex who said you had commitment issues doesn’t read that you’re engaged, for example). You can also make that a default setting.

8. Don’t Advertise for Facebook

In the past, there were some controversies when people found their pictures from Facebook showing up as part of advertisements on the service. You can make sure this doesn’t happen, with either third-party applications or ads on Facebook. Go to Account Settings and click the Facebook Ads tab. For both choices, choose “no one” from the drop-down menu. Then click Save Changes for each selection.

9. Look for Trespassers

Of course you know how to create a strong password and use one on your Facebook account. If not, someone might have figured out you “cleverly” used the name of your dog or your birthday as your password and is accessing your account. Unlikely as it may seem, it can happen. Fortunately, you can track if and when other devices and computers access your account. Go to the Account Button, to Account Settings, and click “change” next to Account Security. You can set it so you get an e-mail or SMS message when a new device signs on with your Facebook credentials. This page also provides a rundown of recent account activity.

10. Temporarily Deactivate

This is the ultimate security step short of totally doing away with your Facebook account; after all, the only true safety is never taking a chance. First, you can download your whole Facebook history with the new downloader tool, which is right above the Deactivation link—it’s not necessary, but it’s a good idea. Click the “deactivate” link on the Account Settings page and your Facebook account is put in stasis. When your account is deactivated, no one can find you, no one can friend you, no one can see anything you’ve posted (albeit some pictures and videos with others tagged in them will likely stick around). Deactivation doesn’t delete anything. When you’re ready to come back, you simply reactivate the account, and it’s like you never left. Deactivation can be handy when you’ll be away from the online world for an extended period of time.

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