The last couple of Security for Everyone episodes, introduced two Facebook applications that help protect you by warning against threats on Facebook, specifically those found in your wall or news feed. Today we are going to introduce a couple more utilities that help protect you and also take a look at the privacy settings in Facebook. My intention is not to discourage you from using Facebook but to encourage you to enter into it wisely and re-evaluate your activity and settings on a regular basis.
The Facebook numbers
Facebook regularly publishes statistics regarding their number of users, supported languages, applications and the like. The company identifies an active user as one that logs in at least once a month. The latest statistics find more than 500 million active users with over half of them using Facebook on any given day. 30 billion bits of information are shared each month and include: links, blog posts, news stories and photos. Facebook users install 20 million applications everyday. There’s little doubt these numbers are quite impressive and speak loudly to the success of Facebook. What they also speak to is the great potential for scam artists and their ilk to potentially reach millions of people. There is also the real risk that your privacy settings could be sharing more than you intend to millions of people.
Facebook Privacy settings
Each Facebook user has the option to tweak their privacy settings until they comply with their own comfort level. There are default privacy settings though and it’s important to know what these are, in order to weigh changes in the privacy settings, as Facebook continues to evolve. This post is not meant to be an exhaustive review of these settings but rather an opportunity for you to become acquainted with them. To access Privacy Settings, you choose them from your Account menu.
Below are the default sharing settings applied to any new Facebook profile. In my opinion, these are far too open and would likely prompt attention after something potentially sensitive had been posted.
Thankfully, you can customize each of these privacy settings to suit your needs. Below is an example of how one might better define the settings to suit their level of privacy.
If the standard privacy settings (Everyone, Friends and Friends of Friends) are not granular enough, you can choose to customize each privacy setting individually. This allows you to choose specifically who among your Facebook friends should or should not be allowed access to particular information.
This level of customization doesn’t only apply to the privacy settings but can also be set for photos, photo albums and even individual status updates.
The more you use Facebook, the more likely you’ll allow applications access to your profile. I think it’s a good idea to review the list of applications you’ve allowed access since it’s also likely many of them will be abandoned or forgotten over time. With this being the case, there is little reason for them to maintain any access to your profile. To prune the applications that have access to your profile, you visit the Privacy Settings page and select Edit your settings in the Apps and Websites section. Within Facebook you can also block applications and people. To accomplish this, select the Edit your lists link from the adjacent Block Lists section.
It is well worth your time to review and understand the various privacy settings Facebook makes available. I’d recommend you check your settings once every few months to confirm things are as you left them and to see if anything new has been added that might require your attention. I also recommend the BitDefender SafeGo app, as it has a fine feature which reviews your privacy settings and displays a privacy status in an easy to read meter.
Making Facebook secure
It doesn’t take long after you join Facebook for you to begin looking for friends, co-workers or old classmates. The average Facebook user has 130 friends and depending on the activity of your friends this could result in a relatively busy news feed which will undoubtedly contain links to websites, videos and more. As the number of your friends continues to grow the potential for a scam or malicious link to find its way onto your wall or news feed becomes pretty great. This is why you should consider an application or two to help keep you free from threats while using Facebook.
We previously covered the Norton SafeWeb Facebook app. Unfortunately the application did not provide enough in the way of notifications to really give the end-user an upper hand where Facebook threats are concerned. SafeWeb is created by one of the largest names in desktop security - Symantec - which will hopefully be building upon this app so it can provide real value.
We also covered the previously mentioned BitDefender Safego app. BitDefender has put together a fine utility that provides the proper notification not only to you but can also notify the friend that may have posted the threat. Safego also provided a way to clean the threat. Finally, you can also use SafeGo to keep an eye on your privacy settings. This app is extremely useful.
Other tools exist to help where Facebook privacy and security are concerned. The folks at ReclaimPrivacy.org are providing an independent tool which scans your privacy setting and alerts you if an area may be unexpectedly public. This is accomplished by placing a bookmark to the tool in your bookmarks toolbar and running the tool while viewing your privacy setting in the browser. Unfortunately the tool does not work 100% with the latest changes to the Facebook privacy settings. It still may prove useful for you and is a service to look in on occasionally.
Another tool worth considering is Defensio. Defensio is powered by Websense and includes a focus on Facebook. Defensio appears to work much like BitDefender SafeGo but has the ability to scale to business users. Defensio is able to not only monitor for SPAM and malicious links but can also monitor for profanity. While the Defensio website appears alive and well, it is worth noting the Facebook page is lacking any recent updates and the wall has comments from some pretty unsatisfied users.
Facebook can be fun. It is often great to catch-up with friends and acquaintances. What isn’t so great is finding SPAM or malicious links on your wall or news feed. Worse yet, your privacy settings could be sharing more information than you like. Information that could prove damaging or embarrassing. Do yourself a favor and become intimately aware of Facebook’s privacy settings and your use of them. Maybe most importantly, be fully aware of what you are sharing and with whom. If what you are about to post on Facebook is not something you would share verbally among friends, maybe it shouldn’t be on Facebook at all. Something to consider. Stay safe out there.