One Christmas not long ago, I found myself looking at some pictures on Facebook. I saw presents piled up under the tree, food steaming on the table, and family members smiling joyfully at the camera. The Facebook account belonged to a well-known family in British Columbia. These are people I don’t know personally, who would not have appreciated me poking around in their private affairs. It only took a few moments before conscience overcame my curiosity and I exited the site. Those few moments were all it took to show me the dangers people face in not setting their Facebook security settings high enough.
That family’s privacy had been violated only briefly. It could have been far worse. A thief could have easily ascertained the layout of their house and the value of its contents, including Christmas presents. A pedophile would have been more interested in the children. A scammer could have picked up valuable information about names and birthdays.
I love Facebook. I gaze with delight at the pictures my kids post of themselves. I reconnect with long-lost schoolmates from 40 years ago and chat with old friends in Colombia and Australia. I also share my blog via Facebook. If the site disappeared tomorrow, I’d be actively seeking a replacement. At the same time, I make sure my security settings are set very high and I’m cautious about the information I post.
As an employment counsellor, I frequently give workshops illustrating the dangers of social media and the ways my clients can protect themselves. It is now common practice for employers to google potential employees in search of incriminating photos or comments posted online. Photos of people with drinks in hand and eyes glazed over can ensure the loss of a dream job. While some people see this as an invasion of privacy, others will defend an employer’s right to vet future employees.
Existing employees have been fired over photos or comments posted on Facebook or Twitter. People post pictures of themselves slipping away from their desk for a quick cigarette; they publicly comment on information that is confidential to the workplace or make negative remarks about their employers. Take a look at some of the mistakes that got some real people fired. (To avoid having to scroll through the gallery, select the “view as: one page” option.)
This is the Settings page on Facebook, accessed from the drop-down menu at the very top right-hand corner of your profile page.
My advice is to familiarize yourself with each item and its individual components. Beware especially of the public setting, as this allows your information to be viewed by even non-members of Facebook.
This YouTube video will show you how to correct potential problems quickly and easily.
In my opinion, the things that deserve close attention are as follows:
1. Your birthdate. Facebook automatically informs your friends of your birthdate. While it’s nice to receive birthday greetings, you may want to reconsider sharing that information. Scammers are always looking for ways to access names, addresses and birthdates. I also hide my email address for that reason.
2. Photos of you, taken by others. I’m cautious about having my picture taken at private events and usually ask what they plan to do with the photo before I say “cheese.” While you can untag the photo (i.e. remove your name from any association with it), you cannot remove a photo that is posted to Facebook by someone else. If you do feel compromised by a photo on someone else’s page, message the person privately and ask that it be removed.
3. Game invitations. As Facebook users, we all receive invitations from well-meaning friends who invite us to play online games. Know however that accepting these invitations means your account information may be shared with a third party. To stop those invitations permanently, go to Settings then click on the Blocking button on the left-hand side of the page. Read through the options under Manage Blocking. You’ll be happy to know that even if you block someone from sending you invitations, you still remain friends and can read their other, non-game-related news.
4. Personalized Ads.
Did you know that liking a page or sharing a post may lead Facebook to create an ad with your name in it?
Luckily, there’s a way to stop it. From Settings, click on ads in the left-hand menu then edit your selections. Mine are set to no one.
Let me conclude with a final note to grandparents. Being a computer whiz does not necessary mean that young people are aware of the Facebook photo and security settings. Through Facebook, they may be unknowingly sharing inappropriate information to the world, via Google. Give them a heads up. It’s the least you can do in these years of living backwards.
Susan Young de Biagi is a regular contributor to prdn.
“As a trained historian, my twin passions are writing and teaching. In addition to Cibou—my first novel—I have written or co-written three books of non-fiction, and authored a number of digital, educational products.”