Three Ways to Keep Yourself Private on the New Facebook [UPDATE]

Three Ways to Keep Yourself Private on the New Facebook [UPDATE]
Facebook big brother


Facebook’s wicked privacy tweaks, designed to make cash by exposing your personal data to the Web, are triggering some fiery debate. But as these changes click into effect, can you avoid them and stay private? Yes, mostly. Here’s how.

facebook privacy settings

Your Basic Privacy Settings

If you haven’t logged in and been faced with Facebook’s roadblock pop-up window making you change your settings yet, then login in and do not just click through with repeated jabs at the “accept” button the way we’ve been conditioned to do with all those lengthy EULA’s on new software. Instead, make sure the little radio icons for each setting are moved from the “everyone” setting to the “previous settings” one.

Now you’ve done that (or if you’ve already done it, and need to verify what’s being shared) click on the “Settings” button at the top right of Facebook’s blue menu strip, and select “Privacy settings.” It’ll bring up a new window, with an ironically misleading apology from Facebook at the top that notes “There have been misleading rumors recently about Facebook indexing all your information on Google. This is not true.”

Hopefully you’ve been to this page before, as a smart and privacy-wise Facebooker. If you haven’t then click through to “profile information” and under the button to the right of each segment concerning your personal data, click the one you prefer. “Only Friends” is the best for privacy, and you can even limit specific people’s access to things like your phone number (handy for crazed exes?) using custom settings. Go pack to the main privacy menu and do the same for “Contact information.”

Facebook privacy


Controlling Who Sees and Shares Your Data Elsewhere

Now you’ve limited who can see your data as a result your own actions on Facebook, but there’re still two tricks that let your friends and search engines share your stuff. Let’s fix those.

From the main Privacy Settings window, select “Applications and Web sites”, and then “What your friends can share about you.” This affects the kind of updates that your friends can post on their walls about you, and which their friends–or everyone, if they’re an open user–can then see. If you want to be totally private, deselect every option from “personal info” right through “religious and political views.”

Now to tackle Google. Facebook’s meanest change last week was to adjust what it deems as Publicly Accessible Information about you, and it notes that apps and search engines can still share and index this–it’s stuff like your name, friends list, and so on. If you don’t want the Google Monster sniffing your data, from the main privacy menu select “Search” and then untick the “Allow indexing” box in the “Public search results” section. This should stop Google getting hold of your info…for now, at least. While you’re there, you can also choose to limit Facebook’s own search engine to let only your friends see your data.

Facebook privacy search



The other subtly in Facebook’s new changes is that apps can still access lots of data about you, particularly if it’s an app you use that a friend also uses. When they publish data from the app to their wall, depending on how the app’s programmed it could end up referencing information about you. This maneuver is Facebook acknowledging that apps are massively successful, and are acting as potent revenue generators for the company. But if you really don’t want to risk having your data exposed like this, then sorry chaps, but axing the apps is the way to go. (Or, you know, not sharing your life online at all.) Did you really want to waste time on those crappy games and gifting systems anyway? Click on the bottom left light-blue Facebook menu bar and select “Applications.” Scroll to the bottom of the pop-up and select “Edit applications” and then delete the unwanted chaff in the new window.

And that’s about it. It’s not totally fool-proof, and you’ll have noticed that some of the settings in the contact and personal info segments don’t quite give you the fine control you’d maybe like. But if you’re the kind of Facebooker who prefers to run your social network as a closed invite-only system (making you Facebook exec team’s least favorite kind of user, I suspect) then you should be locked up pretty tight. At least until Facebook makes another Zimbabwe-style land-grab and decides it wants to share access to more of your stuff with another privacy “improvement” program, anyway.

Update: Photos

As they point out over at Gawker, there’s another–possibly even sneakier–adjustment to your privacy in the new Facebook concerning photos. You can protect yourself from being tagged in photos to some extent, but in the new privacy system it looked like you couldn’t prevent a wall announcement on your profile when someone else tagged you in a pic. That kinda defeats the purpose of protecting your image, if your wall is a catalog of pics of you (unless you laboriously remove each notification by hand.) Well, you can prevent this happening…it’s just tricky to find the settings.

Here’s how: Go to the top-right “Settings” tab, and select “Application settings.” In here go to the “Photos” app and then “Edit settings.” Next up, click on “Additional settings” and look for the “Publish to streams” tickbox. Untick it.

Really straightforward huh? Don’t you just love it when Facebook tries to “simplify” things for you?

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