Facebook Privacy: What Works (and What Doesn’t)

» Posted by on Jan 31, 2012 in Marketing | 2 comments

Facebook Privacy: What Works (and What Doesn’t)

Recently, I’ve seen a new batch of this message going around on Facebook:

Hello friends, I like to keep my FB private except to those I am friends with. So if you all would do the following, I’d appreciate it. With the new FB timeline on its way this week for EVERYONE, please do both of us a favor. Hover over my name above. In a few seconds you’ll see a box that says : “Subscribed”. Hover over that, then go to “comments and likes” and unclick it. That will stop my posts and yours to me from showing up on the bar side for everyone to see, but most importantly it limits hackers from invading our profiles. If you repost this I will do the same for you. You’ll know I’ve acknowledged you because if you tell me that you’ve done it I’ll “like it.”

This is a viral post that keeps cropping up every time the Facebook community gets nervous about privacy.  The problem is that it only half works – and creates a false sense of security.  The only thing that this will do is to clean up your own newsfeed, preventing you from seeing extraneous activity that you aren’t interested in.  That may be useful, but it won’t help you at all if what you are trying to do is keep your extraneous activity from showing up everywhere else.

Here’s what you can do to keep more of your own activity private:


Here’s a very important concept to understand: comments take the privacy setting of the post to which they are attached.  What that means is that if you comment on a friend’s post, and that post is set to be visible to “Everyone,” your comment is visible to everyone.  You cannot change the settings of just your comment. If you are concerned about how the rest of your friends – or family, or employer, or anyone searching your name in Facebook – may view a comment, there is only one sure way to protect yourself.  Don’t type it in the first place.

  1. Things you read

Facebook calls it “seamless sharing.”  The reality is that Facebook has integrated with a number of apps and they don’t always make it obvious to the user.  The example I see most frequently showing up in my own newsfeed is the Washington Post Social Reader app.  Reading any article on the Washington Post Social Reader app, which allows you to browse and read news stories within Facebook, will add an activity to your newsfeed.  Since you may not wish all of your Facebook audience to know that you just spent an hour reading “College Vampire Vixen Jailed,” you have two ways to limit this exposure.  First, you can click the “Mark as Unread” button at the bottom of the article.  (The default is to display; you have to click to remain hidden.)  Second, you could opt not to use this app but to read things on Washington Post.com. If you’ve accidentally installed the app – which is easy to do – go to Facebook’s app settings to remove it.

  1. Games You Play

Heads up for an important change.  Apps will no longer need to ask your permission each time before posting to your newsfeed.  The app will outline what type of information will be shared the first time you use the app but then will post automatically.  There are a wide variety of apps that are integrated – e-reading apps that will post notification of everything you read, games that will post notification of every time you play, Nike+ which will post all of your runs, etc.  There is no central way to turn off notifications from the apps you use, so this one requires more vigilance on the part of the user.   Go to the app settings page to adjust privacy and be sure to read the initial permission screen carefully.  Facebook has partnered with a host of new apps and services to use within Facebook – Netflix, TV, etc. – and it behooves the user to think carefully about privacy choices before making use of them.

  1. Conversations with Friends

Facebook walls are just not a good place to carry on a conversation with friends.  Don’t post intimate messages to other people’s walls, carrying on an exchange in the comments.  Use Facebook message and send directly to the other person – they’ll still see it next time they are in Facebook and the rest of the world won’t.

  1. Old Posts and Pictures

If you have recently awakened to the concept of privacy, and have gone through your privacy settings like an avenging angel, setting everything to “Visible to nobody at all,” you can’t relax yet.  The new Timeline will display all of your posts, including old ones, in a tempting format to all voyeurs.  Any posts from prior to your security settings change will show with the old settings; so if that picture of you dancing on the bar that you put up the first week you were on Facebook is still set to “Everyone” – there it is, for Everyone to see.  You can check all of your old posts through the “view activity” tab at the top of the Timeline. You are the only one who can see this, and it allows you to change the settings on each item posted since you began using Facebook.  If you want to hide everything at once, go to the privacy settings page and “limit the audience for old posts.”

With the new Timeline and “seamless sharing” features, Facebook is differentiating itself significantly from Google+ and other social networking sites.  Whether or not it will succeed remains to be seen.  But in the meantime, users need to take control of their privacy and realize that a social networking site is not the place to keep secrets – probably it never was.

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  1. i just love your idea

  2. i just love your idea….. please keep us into the new world…. change the systems and make it different now


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