Facebook Security Essentials

Welcome to the breakdown of the essentials to start off securing your Facebook experience. More detail can be found in our pages, articles and content on this site.

There are so many stats on Facebook, that most are made up and the others that weren’t, were out of date by the time they were published. But, it’s safe to say that Facebook has something in the region of 500 million users who each have an average 150 friends. Something like 1 billion photos are uploaded every month by users, and around 80% of users, use applications like games and quizzes in Facebook.

Again, it’s safe to say that, most users aren’t aware of the implications of entering very personal information, making friends, and playing games on social networking sites. This is where we step in to help you.

1 – Setting Up Your Facebook Profile and Basic Information

Do consider that using a shortened version of your name or a nick name will be fine, friends or people will still be able to find you through mutual friends and your profile pictures of yourself. Disclosing your full name is a vital piece of information that is needed for identity theft when used together with other things like, your date of birth, address / location and email address etc. Some of these might be difficult to avoid giving out – so just be careful and think about the total amount of information you will be providing.

If you will be sharing lots of drunken photos of you dancing on tables; you might not want your current boss or future employers to see that. If they can’t search for them under your real name, its much harder for them to catch you !

It’s nice getting birthday wishes from friends on our Facebook wall; It makes us feel all warm inside knowing that people remembered. The problem with that warm fuzzy feeling is, when you list your birthday you are providing identity thieves with one of the 3 or 4 pieces of valuable personal information that is needed to steal your identity. It’s best to not list the date at all, but if you must, at least leave out the year or use a false date (but you might need to remember this to verify your account at some later time).

Whether you are in a relationship or not, it may be best not to make your “Relationship Status” public knowledge; and it doesn’t get more public than Facebook. Stalkers would love to know that you just became newly single. If you change your status to “single” it could easily be interpreted as a green light to start stalking you again now that you’re back on the market. It also lets them know that you might be home alone since your significant other is no longer around. Much better to just leave this status blank on your profile.

2 – Friends (and Friends of Friends)

It’s often said that security is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain and that’s true. With all the security settings and tweaks we list, if you open a lot of information up to friends (and especially friends of friends) then you are trusting them to keep your comments, activities and photos safe. This might be fine for you at the time you set up the account, but do keep this in mind as life moves on. You may well fall out with friends, partners and family and such is the way of life, people do chatter and gossip. Many people added as friends on people’s Facebook accounts are not really what you would class as a friend in the real world, so be careful what you would want shared with them or people who they add as friends – because they are more than likely total strangers to you. How much do you know about them or trust them ?

3 – Organise Friends in Lists

It’s always a good idea to separate friends, family and work colleagues in your Facebook profile and Friend Lists help you do that. Friend Lists are key to your Facebook privacy settings. Select Friends from the top right menu bar, and choose Create to create friend lists like Family, Work, Darts Team etc. Your friends can’t see your lists, so you can name them whatever you like.

Your lists will show on your left hand column. If you have created a lot, they may not all show up by default. Click More to see all of them, then drag and drop those you want to see all the time; above the separator line.

4 – Your Profile Privacy Settings
This will allow you to tailor your profile page to specify who can see which parts of your profile.

Click Settings > Privacy Settings > Profile. If you choose Customise in the drop down box, you can be specific. If you have set up the friend lists in the steps mentioned before, you can select them here to make management easier. Also go to the Contact Information tab then choose what contact information you want to share and who you want to see it. For instance you can choose which of your friends can see your mobile number, email address or IM accounts.

5 – Setting Facebook Photo Album Privacy Levels

On the Photos tab of your profile page, click Album Privacy. Here again, you can use your Friend Lists to set the privacy for each photo album.

Your profile pictures however go into a special album that is always visible and not just to your friends. The pictures in this album are visible to everyone. When people search for you or look at your basic profile information after seeing a comment or a picture of you tagged in a friends album – they will be able to look at all the pictures you have placed in there.

A good option here would be to create another album called Me and then place a majority of your favourite pictures in there, leaving only one or two in the Profile album. This way you can select who you want to be able to see these and who cannot.

For those that have children or nieces and nephews would do anything to keep them safe from harm, but most people post hundreds of tagged pictures and videos of their kids to Facebook without even giving it a second thought. Some people even go so far as to replace their profile picture with one of their children.

Without scaremongering, probably 4 out of 5 parents posted their child’s full name, and exact date and time of birth while they were still in the hospital after delivery. We post pictures of our kids and tag them and their friends, siblings, and other relatives. This kind of information could be used by predators to lure your child. They could use your child’s name and the names of their relatives and friends to build trust and convince them that they are not really a stranger because they know detailed information that allows them to build a rapport with your child.

If you must post pictures of your children then you should at least remove personally identifying information such as their full names and birth dates. Untag them in any pictures.

Lastly, think twice before you tag pictures of the children of friends and relatives. They might not want you tagging their kids for the reasons mentioned above. You can send them a link to the pictures and they can tag themselves in place of their children if they want to.

6 – Restrict Who Can Find You

Click Privacy > Search to set who can find you and what they can see when someone searches for you on Facebook. This is a really important way to protect your Facebook privacy.  You can also select what parts of your personal information will be visible in the search results.

7 – Control Automatic Wall Posts and News Feed Updates

Your actions in Facebook such as comments, likes, appear as highlights on ALL your friends’ home pages. The Friend List options can’t be used or selected from here, you can only turn these updates on or off – no other options just yet.

Go to Privacy > News Feed and Wall and choose whether you want your family or ex-girlfriend to know that you’re now “In a Relationship”, “Divorced” or a “In a Civil Partnership”.

8 – Tune Up Your Facebook Wall Privacy and Location Details

Go to your profile page, click Options > Settings under the status box.
Here you can control whether your friends can post to your Wall, and who can see the posts made by your friends.

There are a lot of people who love the location tagging feature on Facebook that allows them to let people know where they are 24/7. Other applications and services use this and plugin to Facebook too (FourSquare, GoWala etc).

The problem is that you have just told everyone that you’re on holiday (and not at your house). If you add how long your trip is then thieves know exactly how much time they have to rob you. The best idea is not to provide your location at all. You can always upload your holiday pictures when you get home and show off your tan then. Just be mindful of what you post, where and when.

It’s also extremely important that parents make sure their children never put the fact that they are home alone in their status for very obvious reasons.

We like to think that only our friends have access to our status, but we really have no idea who is reading it. Your friend may have had their account hacked or someone could be reading over their shoulder at the library or coffee shop.

The basic rule is not to put anything on your profile or status update that you wouldn’t want a total stranger to know. You may have the most stringent privacy settings possible, but if your friend’s account gets compromised than those settings are useless.

9 – Make Sure You Avoid Your Pictures Appearing in Advertisements

Have you ever looked at the cropped pictures in the advertisments on the right hand columns in Facebook wondering who those people are or thinking that they look quite hot ? Well, at the moment, Facebook has two types of advertisements: third-party and Facebook. Third-party advertisements are currently not allowed to use your pictures, but there is a setting to disallow it – as it is planned to be offered to advertisers in the future and one day, one of those pictures may well be you. Go to Privacy > News Feed and Wall > Facebook Ads tab and turn this option off.

The Facebook ads shown to your friends are about ‘social actions’ like becoming a fan of something. You can turn this off at the bottom of that page too.

10 – Protect Yourself from Friends’ Applications

I’m sure that you may well have seen many many invitations from friends to try an new Facebook game or application, take a quiz or send hearts. Well these can be blocked so that you will never receive application invites from particular friend or never from that offending application.

Go to Privacy > Applications, and click the Settings tab and uncheck all the boxes.

This is where you can control the parts of your information that is visible to applications installed by your friends.

As standard all of these options are set to be visible. This means that your religious and political preferences, pictures, quotes, books and films liked, etc. are all readily available to be used by any of the hundreds of millions of Facebook application developers, each time any of your friends takes a quiz, plays a game, or runs any other Facebook application. If you leave these setting as visible, your information can be gathered by application developers even if you yourself have not installed the application.

11 – Protection From Applications You Install

There is no way to control what information applications can see about you, it is all your publicly visible data or nothing – set by you turning the setting on or off.

You should authorise only those applications you absolutely need and feel that you can trust.

Go to Settings > Application Settings from the top menu. Change the drop-down from Recently Used to Authorised. Here you can see all the applications you have authorised to get access to ALL your profile information. Remove the ones you don’t or no longer need.

Also check the list of applications Allowed to Post and Granted Additional Permissions and remove unnecessary ones.

12 – Deleting Your Facebook Account

You can easily deactivate your account in Facebook from the Settings page. But deactivation will retain all your profile information within Facebook, including pictures, friends, etc. If you want to permanently delete your Facebook account, you will have to complete an Account Deletion Form in order to send off a request to Facebook for this to be done.

There is an unspecified delay between submitting your delete request and actual deletion.
If you log back into Facebook, your deletion request is automatically cancelled.
There doesn’t seem to be any way to confirm that your request was completed.
Even after permanent deletion, Facebook says that copies of your photos may remain on their servers for technical reasons.

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