4 ways to protect the little privacy you have left on Facebook

Tips & Tricks

Facebook’s latest attempts to connect people on the Internet have left many users feeling overexposed.

The world’s most popular social network made the decision to opt its 400+ million users into “Instant Personalization”, which instantly shared users’ “general information” with Facebook’s partner sites—Yelp, Pandora and Microsoft Docs. In addition, Facebook’s new Community Pages automatically connect you to any topic, brand or personality that you’ve expressed any interest in.

You probably know that Facebook began as a service for students at Harvard University and prospered as a sort of exclusive club, only open to college students, then businesses and organizations. It was a slicker alternative to the free-flowing, everything-goes atmosphere of MySpace.

But when Facebook opened itself to the world and then opened its API to application developers, two things happened. It found a solution to the essential crisis of social networks—”What the heck do we do now that we’re here? I guess we pretend to farm.” And it also awakened Zuckerbeg’s passion for radical, unfettered openness—on Facebook’s terms, of course.

But it seems that now we’ve reached a crisis point. It’s been widely reported that Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg thinks the era of privacy is over. Recently, he was reported as saying that he doesn’t believe in privacy. Clearly, if he started the site today, the default setting on everything would be public.

While Zuckerberg may not care about privacy, but most of us will have to apply for a new job one day. A recent F-Secure study suggests that Facebook members are especially concerned about how their online activity may affect their ability to make a living. And lawmakers in the US aren’t thrilled with Facebook’s view of user data. But that hasn’t prompted the California-based company to reverse course and pull back some of the opt-in features they’ve introduced, as Google Buzz did.

So YOU have to make a decision. This privacy debate can’t go on forever—many experts including Robert Scoble are already bored of it. As I see it there are 4 ways to deal with Facebook and its disregard for privacy. Choose 1 or forever hold your peace.

1. Quit Facebook and delete your account.
You and Facebook may have irreconcilable differences. Facebook has shown a pattern of moving toward disclosure of every aspect of your online life. It’s probably only going to get worse. (Here are 10 Reasons You Should Quit if you’re looking for them.) And as a matter of principle or out of necessity, you can say goodbye now.

2. Maybe consider using an alias.
(Note: I say “maybe” because this may be against Facebook’s terms and conditions.) By adjusting your name by a few letters or putting it into Pig Latin, you can make it very difficult if not impossible for anyone to find your profile. Get a nom de plume and connect with your friends or their aliases. Unless you’re a candidate for President, Prime Minister or Pop Idol, it’s likely that you’ll never be found out.

3. Become a Facebook privacy expert.
Immediately audit your privacy settings. Erase every application as soon as you’re done with it. Opt-out of everything that Facebook opts you into and study every proposed change to Facebook’s privacy policies as if your life depended upon it. But realize that whatever you do, you may not be able to stop your connections from sharing things you deem private.

4. Give up worrying about Facebook and learn to trust yourself.
Most of us are willing to trade privacy for utility. If you use Gmail, you see ads targeted to you based on even your most intimate messages. The good news about Facebook is that they are completely limited to sharing what you (or other people) post about you (or other people).

Facebook’s attitude toward privacy is never going to change (or charge), so if you enjoy the service it may be worth the cost of stopping yourself before you upload anything and asking yourself, “What if my (future) grand kids saw this?” or “What if this came up in a job interview?”  Assume that whatever you share will spread across the net faster than Lady Gaga’s new video. And if you decide to share, you know that it’s out there forever. Of course, you still may want to audit your privacy settings so you don’t end up as a fan of the Justin Bieber community page because you once made a joke about Justin Bieber.

But don’t worry, it’s just Facebook. We probably shouldn’t take it so seriously.


CC image credit: “i don’t make art anymore

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You forgot option 5, pollute any and all data you can with inaccurate garbage and pollute their data pool.

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