Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wednesdays on the Web: Facebook

Happy Wednesday! For you newcomers, I am Lorene (aka Lu) and I guest post here once a week about various web topics. If you want to see what I'm doing the other days of the week, come on over to my blog, just Lu. Now, on to today's topic... Facebook.

If you haven't been following the Facebook privacy discussion, well, there's a lot going on! Facebook's CEO, Mark Zuckerburg, has been under fire lately (just check out some of these news articles!) for the social networks privacy settings, which are complex and often hard to understand. On Monday, he wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post which clarifies a few things and discusses his vision for Facebook's future. 

Update 5.26.10: I just found this article from the ACLU that discusses the top two privacy issues, as well as recent changes. It's definitely worth a read if you want to know more.

Recently Facebook unveiled an Instant Personalization Pilot Program that allows selected partners access to information you share on Facebook to help these partners better personalize your experience. The program itself isn't the problem--the fact that you were automatically included in the program was.(If you haven't yet opted out of the program and would like to, this tutorial from will show you how.)

With Facebook making changes like this fairly regularly, how can you make sure that you retain your privacy?

I use and recommend these two tools to check out what you're sharing through Facebook, both intentionally and accidentally.

Add the Scan for Privacy button from to your browser's bookmark tab to scan your Facebook privacy settings and identify any potential vulnerabilities.

It's easy! Once you've added the button to your bookmarks tab, log in to Facebook and open your privacy settings by clicking Account in the upper right corner and selecting Privacy Settings. Then, just click the Scan for Privacy bookmark.

This tool is constantly changing based on user input and Facebook's changes, so it's best to scan your settings regularly. I scanned my profile last week and all of the areas came back secure, but the scan today, which checked more areas than the scan last week, told me that I have three caution areas where some of my information is available outside my circle of friends:
The report includes links to the specific privacy setting in question and a button to re-scan just that area.

Keep in mind that just because this report labels an area caution, that doesn't mean you're broadcasting that information to everyone on the web: the scan will only tell you that all areas are secure if you aren't sharing any information with anyone other than "Friends Only."

I chose to allow "Friends of Friends" to both see my profile pictures and add me as a friend. It doesn't make sense to me to have "Friends Only" able to add me as a friend :) and if I am searching for a friend, I want to be able to see their profile pictures to make sure I'm adding the right friend. With this in mind, I make sure that the photo I'm using for my profile picture is one that I'm okay with sharing with the whole world. Check your individual settings and set them however you're comfortable with.

Run the profile scan at to show exactly what information any Facebook user can see about you. If you are a parent whose child uses Facebook, you can use this scan to see what information about your child is public. With ReclaimPrivacy's privacy scanner, you must be logged in to Facebook, but with ProfileWatch you can either log in and use the ProfileWatch app or just copy the URL of any Facebook profile.

The ProfileWatch scan gives you an online privacy score of 0.0-10.0 based on how safe your profile information is. Before I ran the above ReclaimPrivacy scan and made the recommended changes to my security settings, my score was a scary 5.5. After the changes, I scored a perfect 10.0 (you can call me Nadia if you must ;) but you should go watch the video either way because her routine is amazing).

ProfileWatch features articles that can help you understand more about your Facebook privacy and how to ensure you are in control of your information, and if you want to read more, here are some helps:
Even after you've run these scans and secured your information, the best tip for Facebook privacy? If you don't want someone to know, don't share it at all. :)

Happy Facebooking and I'll see you again next Wednesday (unless you stop by my blog in the meantime, hint hint...)
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