Privacy in the Digital Age: Social Networking Sites

Facebook, the world leader in social networking, is a giant with the issues surrounding user profile data privacy. Just like Google, Facebook is making hundreds of millions of dollars from the user profile data targeted by marketing and advertising campaigns. The nature of social networking sites encourages you to post personal information. This information could be used to conduct social engineering scams, attempt to steal your identity and access your private data for various reasons.

Social networking sites like Facebook have privacy settings but these controls are not always turned on by default. If you are using social networking sites, take control of your profile privacy.

Simple measures that can help you protect your privacy and identity while doing social networking:

  1. Understand what information is collected and shared: read the policies and terms of the social networking sites. You might find that they may be sharing your personal information with other companies.
  2. Make Friend Lists: categorize your friends into various groups to target privacy settings . You can put your work colleagues into a friend list designated “Work,” close friends into a list called “Best Friends” and people you’re related to into a list named “Family.” You can use friend list to create different privacy levels for different groups of your friends. This allows you to selectively open more of your profile to the people closest to you.
    Facebook Tip: To create and customize your own Friend Lists, please follow these steps. Go to the Friends page by clicking the “Account” drop-down at the top of any page, and then click on “Edit Friends.” Click the Create New List button at the top of the page to create a new list, or type the name of a friend in the left-side search field to add a friend to an existing list. You can also click on an existing Friend List on the left-side of the page, and then click on the “Edit List” button. If you have more than two Friend Lists, you can easily add or remove friends from lists by using the drop-down menu that appears next to their names on the “All Friends” tab of the Friends page.
  3. Configure Privacy Settings: organize who can see what on your profile. Think carefully about the things you want public and the things you want private. This is where you can take advantage of the friend lists.
    Facebook Tip: Click on “Account” menu and then click “Privacy Settings” from the list that appears. This takes you to a page where you can configure who gets to see certain information on your profile. Underneath each section on this page,” Basic Directory Information” and “Sharing on Facebook,” you can designate who gets to see that particular bit of information. For anyone not using custom friend list, the best thing to enter here is “Friends Only.” You can also block certain groups or people from seeing these sections, too. Read Facebook privacy guide for more tips: http://www.facebook.com/privacy/explanation.php.
  4. Protect Your Identity: Don’t provide personal information that can be used by identity thieves. Don’t list your home address or telephone number, email address, birthday. Set custom privacy settings for each contact item that you have in your profile. This is where you can take advantage of the friend lists once again. Create a separate e-mail address that is used only with social media sites.
    Facebook Tip: Click on “Account” menu and choose “Account Settings” from the list that appears. You can designate visibility for each contact item by clicking “Change” and then choosing “Adjust visibility.”
    Or you can go to the “Privacy Settings” page and select “Customize Settings”. Scroll down to “Contact information” where you can set visibility for each of your contact paths or your birthday.
  5. Control Search Visibility: you can remove yourself from Facebook and/or Google searches. By default, a public search listing is created for all Facebook accounts that belong to users 18 years of age and older. You can control the visibility of your profile to Google and other search engines. You can also customize who gets to find you on Facebook.
  6. Facebook Tip: To stop search engines from accessing your user profile and any information visible to Everyone, go to the “Applications and Websites” section of your “Privacy Settings” page and then click “Edit Settings” for the Public search section. Un-check the “Enable public search” option.
    Facebook Tip: Control who can find your Facebook profile using Facebook search by clicking “Edit Settings” in the “Basic Directory Information” section of the “Privacy Settings”. From this page you can control who can find you in search results (i.e., the ability to add you as a friend or send you a message). Want to be wide open? Change the “Search for me on Facebook” drop-down box to “Everyone.” Want to keep it a little more limited? Select “My Networks and Friends,” or “Friends of Friends,” instead. Don’t want anyone finding you on Facebook? Change it to “Only Friends.”
  7. Don’t share personal Information with unknown applications: social networking sites usually don’t share or sell user data directly, but if users utilize third-party applications, their profile data can be captured and potentially be used for fraudulent purposes resulting in a user becoming an identity fraud victim. These applications do not reside on a computing device. They are integrated into a website. That makes it impossible to run virus or malware scans on these applications to find out whether they are malicious. Applications cannot identify or pick up your personal data without first asking your permission. The bottom line is to be careful what you approve.
    Facebook Tip: Go to “Account”-”Privacy Setting.” You will see the list of the applications you have used. Once you authorize an application, you’re telling it that it’s OK to access any information associated with your account that it requires to work. While some developers may only pull what’s actually required, many others just pull in everything they can. Delete the apps you’re not using anymore. (Use the “X” to remove them.) You can also remove applications from the “Applications and Websites” section of the “Privacy Settings” page by clicking “remove unwanted or spammy applications” under the list of applications you’re using.
    Facebook Tip: A friend might have signed up to a Facebook rogue application which harvests your profile data – so what can you do to stop this from happening? Go to “Account”-”Privacy Settings.” Click “Applications and Websites.” Click the settings for what your friends can share about you. Deselect anything you wouldn’t want a scammer to see.