Nowadays it seems like nearly everyone is on Facebook. It's a great way to connect with your friends and family, get in touch with people from your past, and share what's happening in your life. But it's also a place where your personal information can get stolen, your computer infected, and your friends' computers and information compromised as well. Wherever people gather in cyberspace these days, cyber bad guys gather as well. Even though the Facebook interface changes frequently and they keep trying to make it safer, it's still all too easy to give out information you should have kept private. In this article we'll talk about the most important ways to set your Facebook account to keep away the bad guys. In the next article we'll go into other Facebook settings that will help safeguard your privacy.
First Step, Two-Step
We'll assume you already have a Facebook account set up, but if you don't, you can go here and follow the instructions. As always, use a secure password! If you don't know how to create a secure password, check out this article from Lifehacker which will give you a good idea of how it's done.
Important: If you are just signing up, don't give Facebook any more than the bare minimum of information. They don't need your address, your birthday, or anything else - except your phone number, and that can be given to them safely. I'll explain this in just a minute.
Whether you've had your account for a while or are a newcomer to Facebook, start securing your account by setting up two-step (or two-factor) identification. This is something that more and more sites are making available and it's a simple way to help keep your account from getting hacked.
Here's how to do it. Log into Facebook, and click on the down-arrow in the upper right corner of the screen. (Note: your screen may not look precisely like this one, and sometimes that arrow is difficult to distinguish from the background.)
From there, click on Settings. Again, your menu may not look quite the same as this one.
Click on Security in the upper left corner.
Look for Login Approvals, and click Edit on the right side.
Click Require a security code to access my account from unknown browsers.
Facebook will walk you through the process of adding and verifying a phone number. Unfortunately, unlike some other sites, Facebook doesn't offer the option of sending you an email for verification. You have to have a cell phone that can receive text messages.
Important: Unless you want your phone number to be visible to everyone who can see your page, be sure to hide it using the procedure I'll describe in the next section.
Once that is done, we can move on to other steps you can take to make sure you and your personal information are safe.
Next Step: Privacy
The first thing you will want to do is hide the cell phone number you provided for two-step verification, unless you want it to show up to anyone who cares to click. Click on your own name in the top margin, and from your Timeline page, click About.
Click on Contact and Basic Info.
You'll see a list of the information you've provided. Hover your pointer over the Mobile Phones listing and you'll see an Edit button appear.
Click on this. It will expand your listing. On the right you'll see an icon that indicates who can see your phone number. Click the down arrow next to that icon and change the setting to Only Me.
Now Facebook can use your mobile phone number to verify your login, but nobody else can see it.
You should edit access for any other information you've provided (address, email, instant message account name, etc.). At the very least, change the default Everyone to Friends. Allowing access to everyone is like writing "For a good time, call or text [me]" on a bus station restroom wall.
To continue assuring your privacy, go back to the Settings page and click Privacy.
Here you'll see a listing of what other people can see and do on your page.
Each of these items can be changed to suit your own preferences (to make the screenshot a little more readable I have cropped out the Edit buttons on the right side of each category). Again, to be on the safe side, you should change Everyone to Friends, at least to begin with. (You may want to sort your Facebook friends list so that your close friends are in a different list from your acquaintances. I will cover this in the next article.
Notice that I have left one category as Everyone. I've met a lot of very interesting people through friend requests and I do not want to restrict people's ability to send me a request. (There is nothing that says anyone has to agree to a friend request. In fact, each request comes with a Decline button – or you can simply ignore them). However, this is my own preference and not everyone agrees with it. Make your own choices here.
These steps will get you started on the road to Facebook privacy and security. In the next article, I will go into more detail about your choices and your options. Keep in mind that you always have a choice when it comes to providing information. If you don't want the whole world to see it, it's up to you to make sure they don't. Do you have any favorite tips and tricks for essential Facebook security? Please share them in the comments below.