Last May I started teaching social media classes for seniors through OASIS. Each and every time, participants have presented a host of super-savvy questions related to privacy and security. Here are three main questions raised about privacy settings and Facebook:
- Who can see my personal information and updates?
- Why did Facebook raid my personal email address book?
- What if I don’t want to accept a friend request?
1. Who can see my personal information and updates?
This is a gargantuan question that deserves a course all to itself. The most important thing to remember is that users have some pretty serious control over who can see what in Facebook. The golden key is Facebook’s Privacy Setting page. (You find this page using the “Account” drop-down menu located in the upper right hand corner of your main FB window.) The degree of control offered through these settings is immense — and poses a double-edged sword. Put simply, the sheer number of privacy options can drive a person crazy.
Here some big-picture highlights on controlling personal information and updates:
- You can control whether content is shared with everyone, friends of friends, or friends only. Content you share includes your status, photos, bio, birthday, contact info, etc. If you’re feeling particularly energetic, you can organize your friends into lists and set certain content to be visible only to the specific list you’ve defined. Control over these sharing settings can be found at Account > Privacy Settings > Sharing on Facebook
- You can control how people find you on Facebook. These settings allow you to determine who can search for you on FB, who can send you friend requests and messages as well as who can see your education, work, city and hometown. These settings can be specified to friends only, friends of friends, and everyone. Be careful: If you set everything to the strictest available privacy setting, people may have a harder time finding you on Facebook. Control over these settings are at Account > Privacy Settings > Connecting on Facebook.
- You can control whether people can find your Facebook listing using public search (like Google). When this setting is enabled, someone can “Google” you and obtain a preview of your public profile. Without proper privacy settings in place, this could be quite revealing. To tighten privacy, this option can be turned off. (Alternatively, you can set privacy controls to determine what information is visible via public search.) You can turn public search settings on and off at Account > Privacy Settings > Apps and Websites > Public Search.
For an in-depth look at Facebook privacy settings, take a look at Mashable’s post Facebook Privacy: 10 Settings Every User Needs to Know. Their post provides a fantastic run-down of privacy settings complete with helpful screenshots.
2. Why did Facebook raid my personal email address book?
I hear this one a lot. Some people are under the impression that once you sign up for Facebook, FB will automatically rummage through your personal email address book and send a mass email to everyone. One woman shared that FB did this to her and the result: Facebook sent friend requests on her behalf to everyone in her email address book. Please Note: Facebook will NOT *automatically* raid your personal email address book!
What’s happening in these cases is the result of suggestive action through design. (Check out the overly exaggerated example to the left.) When someone first signs up for an account, they have the option of granting Facebook temporary access to a personal email address book. The page design for this step of the process is set up so that the address book option appears to be a mandatory next step. It’s not. Someone can sign up for a Facebook account without going through this process.
But, Facebook is a social platform, so it just works better when you’re connected to people you know. What this option actually does is pretty simple. With your permission, Facebook uses email addresses in your address book to let you know which of your email contacts are also on Facebook. After seeing which of your email contacts are also on Facebook, you then have the option of individually selecting contacts who you would like to (a) connect with on Facebook and/or (b) receive an invite to join Facebook, if they don’t already have an account.
3. What if I don’t want to accept a friend request?
At first glance, this is pretty simple and straightforward. If you don’t have a Facebook account and don’t want one, you can pretty much just ignore the invite. If you are on Facebook, you’ll have the option of either “confirming” and accepting the friend request, or clicking “not now”.
Important Privacy Information: This is where things start getting a little tricky. If you click “Not Now”, the friend request will be tucked away in “Hidden Requests”. This means that everyone tucked away in “hidden requests” can see your public (“Everyone”) posts in their personal news feed.
The solution: Either decide to permanently delete the friend request or confirm the request. Also, it’s important to know that “hidden request” people can only see your “Everyone” posts. So, if you’ve got privacy settings ratcheted down to friends only, “hidden request” people will not see your updates. TechCrunch has an excellent post about this Facebook Defacto Follow Feature.