Millions of people share the intimate details of their lives online via Facebook. In fact, according to CNet, the site recently hit one billion active users. All of this posting on Facebook, however, can have unintended consequences if users aren't aware of how to safely use the social networking giant.
Unsafe use of Facebook can lead to a number of issues that manifest in the real world, such as identity theft, job loss, and even burglary. That doesn't mean, however, that you are destined to become a victim if you use Facebook. There are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself.
Get Familiar with Safety Guidelines, Features, and Tools
The privacy settings on Facebook change with great regularity. While it can be difficult to keep track of these changes, it is to your benefit to do so in order to protect yourself.
- Facebook has a Security Page that provides tips and keeps users abreast of the latest security information. To join, navigate to the page and click the Like button.
- Facebook also provides a number of tools and resources for parents to review on their Family Safety Center and Safety pages.
Use Privacy Settings
Privacy is a big issue on Facebook. The site's privacy settings allow you to determine:
- Who sees your posts, pictures, and comments
- Who is allowed to post to your wall
- Who is allowed to send you friend requests and messages
- Who can see any email and phone number information you've provided
- How/if you are found by Google and other search engines
Your privacy settings allow you to make several selections in each of these categories:
- Friends only
- Friends of friends
The most secure setting is the "friends only" setting, which allows you to limit access to your information to people who have chosen to accept as friends via the site.
Check Settings Regularly
Because Facebook changes its settings so often, it's easy to get caught unaware. A monthly check of your safety, privacy, and security settings can help ensure they remain of your choosing. You can find your security settings under Account Settings, while the Privacy Settings tab can be found in your main user menu.
Keep Identifying Data Private
Privacy is important for many reasons. When you allow the public to see the information you post, anyone may be able to glean personal information. Employers have used such information, as have dishonest individuals. For example, if you've listed your mother as a family member and her maiden name is part of her profile, an identity thief now has one piece of the puzzle when trying to gain access to financial data.
Information you should generally keep private includes:
- Your full birth date
- Your email
- Your telephone number
- Your address
Be Careful Who You Friend
Many people use Facebook as an expanded networking site that often includes acquaintances, business associates, clients, or even people they don't know. Once you've friended them, every one of those people now has unfettered access to any private data you post about yourself.
A better idea for using Facebook as a networking tool is to create a personal Facebook account for close friends and family you trust, and then create a business page for professional purposes. Pages allow you to interact with people in an expanded network while keeping your personal data out of the hands of those you don't know well.
Post with Care
Even with privacy settings firmly maintained, posting on Facebook can be potentially hazardous. As a rule of thumb, keep in mind that even if your privacy settings are for official site interaction only; once you've posted something to Facebook it's potentially public information.
Anyone can take a screen shot of what you've posted and share it with the world. Keep this fact in mind at all times and let it guide your posting decisions. Remember that a photograph of the inside of your home or a new toy may become a shopping list for a burglar, while using location services to tell people where you are in the moment may invite thieves to head to your home or stalkers to show up at your location.
Some things to always avoid posting:
- Vacation pictures while you are on vacation
- Photographs that include valuables you keep in your home
- Private information with the specifics of where you are, who you are with, or where you are going
- Pictures and posts that others may consider objectionable, such as lingerie photos or racial epithets
- Pictures and posts that show you engaging in behaviors potential employers may find objectionable
Protect Your Family
Facebook has a number of features that allow you to easily identify members of your family. Use these with caution, and observe the following safety practices:
- Never tag photos of your children
- Remove tags other people have placed on pictures of your kids
- Don't post your children's names, ages, or birth dates
- Don't allow children to use Facebook unsupervised
- Teach your children how to use Facebook and other social networking sites safely and responsibly
- Monitor your children's privacy and security settings regularly
- Avoid allowing children to set up until they are at least 13, the minimum age requirement established by Facebook
Use a Strong Password
All-too-often, people use weak passwords because they are easy to remember. Easy-to-recall passwords, however, are also relatively simple to hack. If someone is able to hack your Facebook account, that person will be privy to a great deal of information about you. To create a strong password, use a combination of lower case and uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
Always Log Out
Failing to log out of Facebook leaves it open for anyone who follows you on that computer. Logging out at the end of every Facebook session will ensure your information and settings remain under your control at all times.
Be Aware of Applications
Facebook has hundreds of applications that allow you to do everything from tending a virtual farm to posting comments on blogs across the Internet. Every time you use one of these applications, you are agreeing to allow the owner of the application access to your private Facebook data. In some cases, you're even allowing access to friends' data that hasn't been secured, as well. Even quizzes are applications, so proceed with care.
Applications can be sneaky. Before you use an application for the first time, Facebook will provide a dialog box asking if you'd like to allow the application access to your data. If you don't want third parties to have this access, it's best to skip the apps altogether. You can manage applications under the Privacy Settings tab.
Facebook allows you to block people who you don't want to have any access to your information. When you block someone, the person will not even be able to see that you have a Facebook account when searching for you. Blocking must be done individually, and it's under the Privacy Settings tab.
Be Careful What You Click
Many items wind up in your Facebook stream with links. Never click on links unless you recognize and trust the site to which it is linking. Otherwise, you may wind up with malware or spyware on your computer.
It is possible to keep your data relatively safe on Facebook as long as you use it responsibly and stay abreast of changes as they arise. By taking the above precautions, you can interact via social networking with confidence.