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Facebook Privacy

Even though Facebook has a billion users, there are still new people joining and at least one of the people who joined recently is reading this blog post. So I thought it would be good to do a blog post about my thoughts on privacy and Facebook.

First of all, there are a ton of knobs for controlling your data in Facebook. Allow certain friends to see certain info, keep some things private from everyone, or approve any photo your tagged in. The list goes on and on and the list changes fairly silently in the background. Putting secret stuff on Facebook and trying to control it with their settings is a recipe for disaster. That’s how you get the crazy stories about somebody posting something about their boss and then getting fired because it leaked out.

Here’s an easy way to make sure nothing that you consider private ever leaks out: don’t put anything that you consider private into Facebook.

This starts from the minute you sign up and you are presented with a bunch of data fields. What’s your favorite book? Who are your relatives? What’s your birthday? What’s your hometown? Stop and ask yourself why you’re putting any of this data in there. I fill in some fields like my religious views and some favorite things I enjoy, but in general, if you wouldn’t stand on a stump in a park and yell it out, don’t type it in to those fields.

This guideline should continue to apply every day you’re on Facebook. If you wouldn’t show that picture to your boss, a hacker, or your family, don’t put it on Facebook (or anywhere on the Internet for that matter.)

So what is the bar for things that are ok to make public? That’s one that’s different for everyone. I live a fairly public life. I’ve been blogging daily for over 10 years so the thought of posting some photos on Facebook doesn’t bother me. But there are still things that I won’t put on the Internet like photos or text showing that I’m on vacation and won’t be in my home for x days. However, that’s something that lots of other people do and don’t feel weird about. I also don’t “like” very many things because it’s just more data that can be used to profile me. You need to figure out your own line. The nice thing about Facebook is that you can join, enter very little personal data and then kibitz. Nobody says you have to post anything, but if you’re friends with people, you can still see what they are up to.

It’s a great tool, but it can cause you a lot of trouble if you start relying on anything in the privacy settings to keep certain info from certain people. As soon as you put anything in digital form anywhere on a computer, you are opening yourself up to the potential that the world will know about it.