Facebook (along with other social networking sites) has been around for a few years, and a lot has been written about the security issues involved. Googling “facebook security” yields about 20,500 hits. But what do users really need to know?

Information about Facebook users can be broken down into several categories:

  • Personal information: Facebook allows users to enter personal information such as their date of birth, home town, relationship status, sexual orientation, religious views, email address, telephone number, educational background, and employer.
  • Friends: The point of social networking is to connect with “friends”. Facebook users send requests to add friends, and if the potential friend agrees, they are connected on facebook. Any user who can view either of the “friends” profiles can see that they are connected. Some people allow anyone to see who their “friends” are, so social networks can be mapped.
  • Photos: Facebook users can upload photos and tag people in them. For example, if a friend uploads a photo that you are in, they can tag you in the photo. Another user viewing the photo can see your name associated with the photo.
  • Facebook Applications: Facebook applications allow users to post information on their profile, other user’s profiles, etc. Whether other users can see the information depends on your privacy settings (more on that later).
  • Third Party Applications: Facebook and third party applications that you enable have access to information in your profile. While there are some privacy restrictions in place, you should assume that all your personal information is available to any application you add.

So how do you stay safe on Facebook? The various applications and privacy settings may be overwhelming, but the answer is simple:

  1. Don’t enter unnecessary personal information into Facebook in the first place. While they require that you provide your date of birth (although they have no way to verify that you are providing correct information), virtually all the other personal information is optional. If you wouldn’t be comfortable answering the same question posed by a stranger or at a job interview, don’t type it into Facebook.
  2. Do not supply information about your school or employer. While you might not consider your employment details particularly sensitive, doing so may give your employer a legitimate reason to object to what you have written since it may reflect on them. Unless you use Facebook for business purposes, keep your employer out of it.
  3. Configure all privacy settings for your profile (Settings > Privacy Settings > Profile) to ‘Only Friends’. This makes it more difficult for people who don’t know you to obtain personal information about you. You can always change this later if there is specific information you wish to share with a wider audience.
  4. Don’t blindly accept friend requests. Identity thieves and unscrupulous marketers may send large numbers of friend requests. If you’re not comfortable simply ignoring requests from people you don’t recognize, you can always send them a message back politely asking, “Can you remind me where I know you from?” Just remember that sending someone a message on Facebook gives them access to some information in your profile.
  5. Think before you post. As a general rule, don’t post anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t want posted on the Internet. You may think that only your ‘friends’ can read it, and today you might be right. However, your words may hang around Facebook for a long time. Also, you have no way to prevent a ‘friend’ from copying, printing or creating a .pdf and sharing it with others.

Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with friends. By following a few basic rules and considering the potential consequences before giving Facebook information you can keep it safe.

Leave a Reply