Have it Your Way: The Ultimate Facebook Privacy Primer

It’s ironic that Facebook has taken so much heat about privacy settings. In reality, Facebook serves up some of the best privacy settings on the Internet.  The problem is that users don’t know how to digest them.

The privacy of personal data is an important issue — but the biggest violators aren’t companies like Facebook that address the issue head on.  They’re the other companies that collect, buy, sell and trade your customer data WITHOUT TELLING YOU or providing you with personal control.  I’m more concerned about what credit card companies, online retailers and sites like mylife.com do with private data than I am with Facebook.

In the US, companies have a lot of freedom regarding how they utilize personal data they collect from customers.  Data privacy is not highly legislated or regulated in the US.  For example, access to private data contained in third-party credit reports may be sought when seeking employment or medical care, or making automobile, housing, or other purchases on credit terms. Although partial regulations exist, there is no all-encompassing law regulating the acquisition, storage, or use of personal data in the US .  In the United States, whoever goes through the trouble of keying in data owns it and has rights to use it — even when its collected without permission.

By contrast, The right to data privacy is heavily regulated and rigidly enforced in Europe. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) provides a right to respect for one’s “private and family life, his home and his correspondence”, subject to certain restrictions.

So, Facebook is a MODEL company when it comes to privacy protection and control in the US.  If I had my choice, I’d require all the companies to obtain my information via Facebook and abide by my privacy settings on Facebook.

Facebook users can share as much or as little  personal information as they want.  The problem has been that users aren’t used to having the level of privacy control that Facebook offers. Consumer Reports says that one in four households with a Facebook account have users who aren’t aware of or don’t choose to use Facebook’s built-in privacy controls.  According to their report, poor privacy practices are commonplace among online users: 40% had posted their full birth date to everyone on Facebook, exposing them to identity theft; and  26% of Facebook users with children had potentially exposed them to predators by posting the children’s photos and names to everyone on Facebook.

To ensure their privacy, Facebook users need to take 15 minutes to adjust their personal facebook settings based on their level of participation — and comfort level — sharing info on Facebook.

How You Use Facebook Should Drive Your Settings

Facebook users generally fall into one of three camps: private users, engaged users, and social users.  Use the info below to identify the category that suits you best. Then, use the recommendations below to guide your Facebook privacy settings.

Read through the scenarios below and decide if you fit into one of these three categories:

Private User Engaged User Social User
  • You want to share little, if anything, on Facebook.
  • You will likely never post anything to your profile.
  • You want to connect with only a handful of friends and family – or no one.
  • You want to use Facebook to monitor what others are doing.
  • You want to share some things on Facebook but likely won’t post often.
  • You want to connect with a select group of friends, family and colleagues.
  • You prefer to choose which friends to connect with.
  • You also want to use Facebook to keep tabs on others and, on occassion, re-post their content.
  • You want to post frequently, including photos, updates and company news.
  • You’re willing to accept friend requests, including from individuals you may not know personally.
  • You’re willing to use Facebook as an extension of your public identity..

Settings for Sharing on Facebook

Based on the above preferences, consider these recommended privacy settings for what you share on Facebook:

Private User Engaged User Social User
  • Use the Custom setting.
  • In the “Things I Share” section, choose the Friends Only setting for the eight available categories.
  • You could also Customize each category and further limit who sees what information.
  • Leave much of the basic information blank, such as family, e-mail/phone, etc.
  • Do not display the birth year in the birthday category.
  • Use the Friends Only setting.
  • In the “Things I Share” section, choose the Friends Only setting for the eight available categories.
  • Uncheck the “Let friends of people tagged in my photos and posts see them.”
  • Leave much of the basic information blank, such as family, e-mail/phone, etc.
  • Do not display the birth year in the birthday category.
  • Use the Friends Only setting.
  • In the “Things I Share” section, choose the Friends Only setting for the eight available categories.
  • Leave the “Let friends of people tagged in my photos and posts see them” checked.
  • Decide what basic information you’d like to share, such as family and relationships, e-mail, etc.
  • Do not display the birth year in the birthday category.

Directory Information Settings on Facebook

Now, consider these recommended privacy settings for what information about you is viewable on Facebook:

Private User Engaged User Social User
  • Use the Friends Only setting for the first three categories (search, friend requests and messages) in the Basic Directory Information area.
  • For the last four categories (education and work, current city and hometown, and interests and other pages), choose Customize from the drop-down menu and then choose Only Me.
  • Use the Friends Only setting for the first three categories (search, friend requests and messages) in the Basic Directory Information area. For the last four categories (education and work, current city and hometown, and interests and other pages), choose Friends Only from the drop-down menu.
  • Use the Everyone setting for the first four categories (search, friend requests, messages and friend list) in the Basic Directory Information area.
  • For the last three categories (education and work, current city and hometown, and interests and other pages), choose Friends Only from the drop-down menu.

Recommended Privacy Settings: Applications and Websites Settings

Now, consider these recommended privacy settings for what information you share with applications and websites.

Private User Engaged User Social User
  • In the Game and Application activity section, select Custom from the drop-down menu, then choose Only Me.
  • In the Info accessible through your friends section, select Edit Settings and uncheck ALL of the boxes.
  • In the Instant Personalization section, select Edit Settings and uncheck the box at the bottom of the page (if it isn’t already).
  • In the Public Search section, select Edit Settings and uncheck the Enable public search box.
  • In the Game and Application activity section, select Custom from the drop-down menu, then choose Only Me.
  • In the Info accessible through your friends section, select Edit Settings and uncheck all of the boxes except for Birthday.
  • In the Instant Personalization section, select Edit Settings and uncheck the box at the bottom of the page (if it isn’t already).
  • In the Public Search section, select Edit Settings and uncheck the Enable public search box. .
  • In the Game and Application activity section, select Custom from the drop-down menu, then choose Only Me.
  • In the Info accessible through your friends section, select Edit Settings and uncheck all of the boxes except for Birthday.
  • In the Instant Personalization section, select Edit Settings and uncheck the box at the bottom of the page (if it isn’t already).
  • In the Public Search section, select Edit Settings and uncheck the Enable public search box.

Credits: The recommended settings based on each profile were compiled by a good friend: Tom Buchheim, from my team at American Family Insurance.  To show gratitude for these contributions, follow Tom on Twitter and American Family Insurance on Facebook. Both provide great content. Photo is courtesy of Burger King (which offers a better breakfast muffin sandwich than McMuffin, in my humble opinion).

Don’t Fear the Creeper

With good privacy settings, you won’t have to fear Facebook creepers. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy their anthem: