By Larry Magid
Facebook's privacy settings, in most cases, don't permit you
to expose your information to everyone on the Web. By default, the
settings typically show your profile and other data only to "My
Networks and Friends." While that might include a lot of people, it
doesn't include the entire world.
These settings can be modified, but most of them can only be
tightened. With a few exceptions, you don't even have the option to
make a lot of your information available to the public at large. One
exception is media files such as photos and videos, which, by default,
can be viewed by "everyone." But you can use privacy settings to
restrict who can see your photos all the way down to specific friends
or even "only me."
Mouse over to privacy settings
Start by hovering your mouse over the
"Settings" tab near the upper-right corner and select Privacy Settings.
There you'll find options to control who can see your profile as well
as other information about you, such as your "personal info," status
updates, photos, videos tagged of you, and who your friends are. You
can control who can see your profile within Facebook and you can turn
off access to public search engines such as Google. There are plenty of
other settings, including ones to control who can write on your wall
and who can comment on notes, photos, or other elements of your site.
Settings vary according to what you're trying to control and,
because of the confusing user interface, you might have to hunt around
a bit. For example, to change the privacy settings on your own photo
albums within the Privacy Settings area you would have to find the fine
print under Photos Tagged of You that says "Edit Photo Albums Privacy
Settings" or navigate from the Applications tray at the bottom left
corner of your browser. That "privacy wizard" they're working on can't
come a moment too soon.
Another relatively unknown feature is the ability to create
multiple friends lists and assign different privileges to people on
different lists. For example, if you want only certain people to know
your cell phone number you can create a list like "good friends" and
another called "colleagues" to make that information available only to
people on those lists. You can create lists by clicking on the Friends
tab on the blue navigation bar and then clicking on "Make a New List"
in the left column.
Third party applications
Be especially careful when it comes to third-party applications.
For example, I use an application from Eye-Fi that automatically syncs
my photos to Facebook and Flickr through my Wi-Fi network. When I
review cameras, I often take ugly and stupid test pictures and, if I'm
not careful, those pictures can be automatically loaded to my Facebook
page for everyone to see. But my most embarrassing moment was about a
year ago, when I tried out the New York Times Quiz on a day I hadn't
read the paper, only to have my low score posted for all my Facebook
friends to see, including my editor at The New York Times.
Regardless of how you configure your privacy settings, there is a
reality of the social Web that can't be configured away. Any digital
information that is posted can be copied, captured, cached, forwarded,
and reposted by anyone who has access to it. Even if some embarrassing
photo or information is up for only a few minutes, there is the
possibility that someone might copy it and send it around. And–as many
people are painfully aware–friends can become ex-friends. So even if
you're reasonably careful about who you let on your page, you never
know what they might do with the information you post.