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Five Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know

Although it seems that there are weekly headlines about how some Facebook indiscretion ruined a college graduate’s job prospects, or how an underage user’s privacy rights were violated, the fact is Facebook has made tremendous strides in updating its account settings and privacy controls to allow users to safeguard their information.

The problem is, far too many people are unaware of the controls or never bother to use them. It’s only when disaster strikes that they ask how this can have happened, and by then it’s too late.

So here are 5 privacy settings that every Facebook user should know about. Even if you are just starting out on Facebook and have only “friended” a few close buddies and family members, keep these in mind. You will need them as your online social network grows!

1. Use Friend Lists

As the number of your Facebook contacts increases, the friend lists feature becomes your #1 Facebook privacy tool. For those of you who don’t know what friend lists are, Facebook describes them as “private groupings of friends based on your personal preferences”. You can create a friend list for just about everybody – family members, old college buddies, colleagues from work, or the weekly book club.

The beauty of creating friend lists is that you can then designate messages for one or more groups, so only certain people get to see them. And best of all, friend lists can have specific privacy policies applied to them. This makes perfect sense. In real life we have all kinds of different friends – everyone from the best friend we have known since elementary school to our boss at work who we socialize with twice-a-year. Why would we want to share the same information with each person?

Here’s how you set up a friend list:

  • Click on the Friends tab at the top of the page and select All Friends
  • Click on Create New List
  • Give the new list a name, e.g. family, work, college
  • Start typing the names of the people you would like to be included in the new list
  • Click on each person to confirm their addition to the list
  • Click on Create List

Remember, you can add a friend to more than one friend list.

Now, when you write a message, you can specify which list it goes to. You can also customize a range of privacy settings, so only some lists see certain information.

2.  Make Your Contact Information Private

As your circle of Facebook friends grows, it’s a good idea to protect your personal contact information. By this I mean phone number and e-mail address. There really should be no need to enter your home address on your Facebook account, although Facebook does give you the option when you first set up your account.

Here’s how you protect your personal info:

  • Click on Settings and choose Privacy Settings
  • Click on Profile
  • At the top of the option list you will see Basic and Contact Information; click on Contact Information
  • Adjust your contact info by type – mobile phone, other phone, e-mail address, etc.

The settings allow you to choose “No-one” or customize to include certain friends or friend lists.

3. Avoid Photo and Video Tags

This is the much written about Facebook problem. You let yourself go at an office function or holiday party and someone with a camera thinks it’s fun to post a tagged photo or video of the scene for all your friends – and their friends – to enjoy. Before you know it, complete strangers are stopping you in the street and telling you how much they enjoyed your video!

Here’s how you can avoid the embarrassment:

  • Click on Settings and choose Privacy Settings
  • Click on Profile
  • Under Photos Tagged of You and Videos Tagged of You, choose the Custom option and select Only Me

If you do want to share tagged photos with close friends and family, then you can include friends or friend lists as exceptions to the Only Me rule. Don’t forget to hit Okay and Save Changes before you leave the Privacy Settings area.

4.  Protect Your Photos

Along with messages and certain profile information, you can also control who sees your photos. This might be important if you don’t want photos of your kids to be visible to all your friends and their friends, or if there are other people in the photos that you would like to keep private.

This has to be done manually for each album, so if you want some photos to be available for viewing and others to be invisible then you will need to organize your albums accordingly.

5. Beware of Applications!

There are hundreds of applications for Facebook; everything from game downloads to automated birthday greetings to customized movie reviews. Many of them are endorsed by Facebook and can be found in their comprehensive apps directory.

However, downloading or signing up for an app can have unintended consequences. First, when you submit e-mail or other sign-up information to external companies or developers you are almost always providing that outside of the privacy and security settings that you have established on Facebook. How that personal information will be used is often unclear and you can find your e-mail address added to numerous unwanted databases.

Secondly, some apps will send automatic notifications through your news feed as soon as you sign-up. There is a notorious “Have Sex!” application, which has no other purpose besides telling your friends that you are interested in having sex with them!  Often these applications will post a news feed story to your profile without you knowing about it until a friend calls up to ask you what’s going on.

Although Facebook provides some privacy settings for applications, they are often ineffective when controlling posts from external sources. It’s recommended that you only sign-up for applications that are vouched for by friends or you check your profile as soon as you sign up to make sure you are getting what you bargained for!

This post includes information and text from an article by Nick O'Neill that originally appeared in All Facebook

Comment by Brian, posted 5/21/2012, 2:29 PM:

If "close friends" is selected for a folder, can family see it? (since you cannot select more than one list.)
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