Facebook and Privacy – a match made in hell?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about privacy settings on Facebook. Depending on their level of expertise people seem to be saying there’s too much of them or not enough, they’re either too complicated or too easy-to-dupe.

Be it one or the other, the old truth about never going public with anything you don’t feel 100% comfortable with sharing still applies. No matter how good the privacy settings are on any community, you still need to be aware of the fact that these evolve constantly and you might not notice every change, even it was advertised properly. And just noticing doesn’t even do it – you might be required to take action and redo your settings, which is something most of us are a bit lazy to accomplish on a regular basis. So a word of warning is in it’s place.

Also bear in mind that while it’s one thing if consenting adults choose to exhibit intimate details from their lives, it’s a totally different ball game if they do that for their children as well. Pictures of your cute 9-year old in her skimpy bikini might end up being used in a way you never intended.

And another thing worth mentioning: all the under-thirteens we know are out there on Facebook or other sites: who has checked their privacy settings? Which pictures are they publishing and are those open for anyone to see? If your kids are on Facebook, make sure you know what they’re doing. I would even go so far as to suggest using Facebook’s reporting feature. Did you know that it is possible to report under-thirteens to the FB administrators?  Just go to the upper right hand corner of your FB page and click on “Account” and then choose “Help Centre”. Here you write “underage users” in the search field and a report link will appear. Their account will then be removed.

The same word of warning should probably go for most over-thirteens as well. Even if your kids are old enough to be on FB, are they old enough to understand the full implications of the privacy features and do they know what their friends are sharing about them? From my experience, most teenagers don’t have a clue. When you ask them, the answer is usually in the lines of “I don’t care, my life is an open book and I want it that way”. In all likelihood this attitude will change as you grow older. Usually by the time you’re applying for your first job. Then you realize that posting pics from last summer’s drunken binges wasn’t perhaps such a brilliant idea after all…

Lately we’ve been doing some work on FB Pages for small businesses. From a security point of view that’s easy, since their information is usually open and aimed at as many viewers they can get. But while working with their company pages, many of our customers have been amazed at the fact that their own (what they thought were) private profiles, family pictures, friendly chit-chat and funny comments are out there for anyone to see.

So do yourselves and your children a favour and check up on those privacy settings. On Facebook it’s easy; just click “Account” in the upper right-hand corner of your page and choose “Privacy Settings”. Then go through each post and customize what you want different people to see. And please pay special attention to the photo settings. Facebook offers the opportunity for account holders to customize each album: make use of it!

If you feel unsure about this, check with someone who knows. And also, if you come across people with “all-in-the-open” profiles, do the good deed of the day and send them a message to ask if that’s the way the want it or if they just didn’t know. Believe me, they’ll thank you for it.

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