“civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. the savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. civilization is the process of setting man free from men.” ayn rand
the very idea of social media (you tube, facebook, twitter, etc.) is at odds with the yearning for privacy. I suspect garbo would not be racing @aplusk (ashton kutcher to the guys at the dmv) to be first to a million followers – she probably [gasp!] wouldn’t even have a facebook account. Users of these services are saying, in essence, “hey! look at me!” they want other people to know about them. but, like russell crowe decking reporters, even those in the public eye by choice can be averse to sharing everything, all the time.
UPDATE 6/24/09: after reading kevin palmer’s excellent post on privacy settings this morning, I realized that I over-complicated things in my original post. in my defense, I was addressing using friend lists for two different purposes, but the solution I suggested was not as effective as kevin’s. I do go into more detail than kevin in outlining how to change the settings, because I suspect a number of my facebook readers want a bit more hand holding with this stuff. onward.
when I posted earlier this month about using facebook friend lists, I focused exclusively on using friend lists to manage the deluge of posts in the redesigned facebook’s news feed. In doing so, I omitted another important benefit to creating friend lists – it makes it a lot easier to control how much of the real you various people get to see. I realized my oversight when I saw this discussion of friend lists on mashable yesterday. facebook’s privacy settings allow limiting access down to the individual level, but segmenting people into lists makes the process faster. Below is a full explanation of the process with pictures of the steps to minimize confusion.
facebook’s privacy settings
here’s the main privacy settings page on facebook:
the profile section opens to show this:
quite the laundry list! although daunting at first, the settings for each category work pretty much the same way. and with the friend lists you set up to manage your facebook news feed as described in my earlier post, it gets even easier! when you click on the drop down list for each category, you’ll see this:
select customize, and this window will pop up:
for most of the categories I recommend limiting access to just friends. then you can filter it down even more by excluding friend lists containing ‘friends’ who might be business contacts or vaguely remembered college buddies. for the infamous ‘photos/videos tagged of you’ categories, I limit it down to ‘only me.’ I am probably too cautious, but there you are.
back to the main privacy page, and open the ‘search’ panel:
I don’t really care who finds me, but until I know who they are, I don’t want them to know too much about me. the picture confirms that I am the guy they turned down the prom date with, and presents the option to request my virtual friendship or just send a message saying they still think they made the right call.
news feed & wall settings
the settings panel for news and wall is pretty straightforward, but note a section on the right side about all the facebook applications that can post to your wall without asking you first! now in theory, you addressed this up in the profile section. however, even when you restrict access to your news feed, anyone on your friend list can still see any information you have intentionally (good) or inadvertently (maybe not so good) allowed to be placed there.
applications settings (part I – apps you use)
so what do you see when you click on that innocent-looking ‘edit applications’ link? a pandora’s box of familiar and distantly-recalled activities you have had through facebook.
note the dropdown box, paying particular attention to these three: “added to profile,” “allowed to post” and “granted additional permissions.” these are the privacy wild cards – applications you have granted carte blanche to inscribe what they will on your public persona. most of these are probably fine – but you should review the list to make sure. if you come across one that you are a bit sensitive about, clicking edit settings will pop up a familiar box:
as on your profile settings, you can use customize to prevent posts from a specific application from automatically appearing to all your friends on your facebook wall. but you’re not done yet! look over on the right to the ‘additional permissions’ tab:
what does this one mean? that the application in question can post to your wall. again, probably harmless. but it’s better to know before you get the call from human resources about the results from your ‘which mass murderer do you most admire?’ quiz. know before you show.
applications settings (part II – apps your friends use)
please note that the discussion above is not for the applications settings panel listed on the main settings page above. facebook is a little tricky on that. the appications settings panel from the main page looks like this
you see where above the checklist it notes “this is only for applications you do not use yourself” – is nowhere safe? facebook requires that you share something if you use any of their applications – and who doesn’t? – but you can limit the damage somewhat. below the checklist section is another:
this section is about two facebook efforts to extend its reach out into the wider internet world and make some money from the stuff it knows about its users. the facebook beacon program allowed participating merchants to post to your facebook account about online purchases or interactions. it pretty much crashed and burned after a few spoiled birthday surprises. beacon has been succeeded by facebook connect, which allows you to log in to various websites using your facebook login. I posted about the successful transition earlier – here is where you can control shared information to some extent.
and you’re done!
much of the newfound interest in privacy on facebook and other social media outlets stems from increasing usage of these outlets for commercial and professional purposes. it’s a smart move for regular users of facebook and other social media to at least be aware of what information they are sharing and know how to control it to prevent potential embarrassment. a business or non profit organization, on the other hand, faces disaster if it fails to monitor its online reputation and what it and/or its official representatives are sharing. the same is true for individuals offering professional services to consumers or businesses.
to that end, an anecdote: popular online marketing website clickz posted a column this week by sean carton that looks at the access regulation issue from a business perspective. carton talks about a focus group of college students he moderated. the students were asked if they would join a group ‘sponsored by their school,’ and the response was an emphatic no way. the focus group participants drew the line at sharing their personal lives with school officials and/or professors.
based on this, carton frets that individuals may not want to ‘be friends’ with businesses and thinks about the selective privacy question. the crisis carton describes is largely moot anyway; businesses with a presence on facebook use fan pages or groups rather than friending as a communications channel to customers and prospects. (and the friend lists and privacy settings I’ve described allow exactly the ‘circle of friends’ concept he proposes.)
we have seen oversharing can be harmful to one’s career aspirations or even lead to arrest. word on the street is that employers are using social media scanning more and more as a screening (or worse, monitoring) tool. in fact, the opposite may be true, as some of those caught with their facebook pants down start to find lawyers. nonetheless, it’s probably wise to use the available tools and settings so you stay in charge of what various people in your life see about you. as one historical figure notes:
“so long as the laws remain such as they are today, employ some discretion: loud opinion forces us to do so; but in privacy and silence let us compensate ourselves for that cruel chastity we are obliged to display in public.” – marquis de sade