Facebook Security by @tommyismyname

Photos of Raul Colon Web Developer Puerto Rico

Guest post by @tommyismyname.

This is post 6 on the Online Privacy Please! series I am writing to share my thoughts on issues of online privacy written by a good online friend @tommyismyname.

Personal security online has been boiled down to one of two vague threats: either someday your future employer will find that embarrassing photo from three years ago and decide not to hire you, or Advertisers will sell your information. Let’s be realistic and look at the real risks involved here.

Facebook is a very public place, and even with high security settings on your profile, you are still either putting self-incriminating information online, or you aren’t. If you take a moment to realize that Facebook people and real people are the same people, you’ll also realize there are some folks you can trust with all your information, some you can trust with some of it, and some you can’t trust at all. The best rule to follow is that if you don’t want your information to be in anyone else’s hands, don’t put it on the Internet. That being said, this is the Age of Sharing and people have come to expect a certain level of sharing (or Over sharing in many cases) that includes updates on our thoughts and activities, pictures of our family members, food, vacations, you name it: it seems like everyone expects to see everything.


This is your decision to make.

Your information is yours, sharing anything with Facebook friends is your call.

Set Your Own Parameters

On October 31, 2010, my 7lb 8oz. son was born at 9:30 a.m. Within 90 minutes, my fiancée and I both had requests -no, demands– from friends who wanted us to post pictures of the little guy on Facebook. We’ve had actual arguments with family members over our choice not to post his photos online. We have become so accustomed to over sharing to the point of dissention when someone chooses not to provide information. My feeling is that our son may grow up to be a private kind of guy who doesn’t want his picture everywhere, or he may not care, but either way my role is to protect that choice for him until he can decide for himself.

Our way of thinking isn’t for everyone, but I share that story hoping that it will encourage you to consider the implications of putting your information, or someone else’s, on Facebook. With lax security settings, a picture can be shared to the far reaches of the Facebook universe. Substitute “photo” with “work history” or “home address” and you start to understand the need to think ahead about what you truly want to make available to the world. (The Facebook Privacy Policy is an enlightening read.)

Once you’ve decided what is and isn’t fit for public consumption, update your “Privacy Settings” and “Account Settings” (both located in the dropdown menu on the top right of the home page, after you log in) accordingly. They can work in tandem if you pay attention to what you’re doing. For instance, you might add your phone number and adjust your privacy levels so that only your Facebook friends can see it.

Adjusting Account Settings

Under “Account Settings,” you’ll find tabs where you can enter basic information and set preferences on the way Facebook contacts you. In order to control whether this information (like your phone number) is made public, you must then make appropriate changes to your Privacy Settings. Account Settings tabs are as follows:

Settings is where you would put the most basic information like your name, email address, etc. Networks is where you could originally affiliate yourself with your university, and now includes work networks as well.

Notifications allows you to permit or decline additional alerts when something happens on your facebook. You can get an email, text, or both for almost any reason that involves you. The list is extensive, so if you permit all of them you could potentially receive hundreds of “extra” alerts per day.

Mobile is where you enter your phone information and control if and how Facebook uses the information to contact you.

Language is very simply a choice of your primary language.

Payments is important if you choose to invest real money into virtual games, apps, or services offered through Facebook

Facebook Ads is complicated and seems at this point to be a preemptive setting. Facebook doesn’t currently allow third party advertisers to use privately owned images for advertising purposes, but in case they decide to (hint, hint) you may decide now whether they may share it with no one, or just your friends. Additionally, you may update the permission for using your name in social actions here. (Insert here a screencap of ad example from this link http://www.facebook.com/editaccount.php?ads&pane=social)

Adjusting Privacy Settings

Once you have entered the basic information and preferences here as well as on your profile (things like your hometown, family members, workplace, birthday, and so on) head on over to the Privacy Settings page. Privacy settings are deceptively easy to update; with the click of the mouse, you can make all of your personal information, photos, and wall posts public to:

Everyone, which really does mean everyone with a Facebook account. If a potential employer searches Facebook for you as part of a background check and your settings allow everyone to see your profile, nothing will be held back from their perusal.

Friends-of-friends, which means anyone that any of your friends is friendly with on Facebook. So that still could be your potential employer, that guy you turned down for a date, or your best friend from fourth grade who you haven’t seen in twenty years.

Friends, which means those folks with whom you have sent/accepted friend requests.

Facebook has a “Recommended” set of privacy settings which mixes all three options to allow some information to remain between you and your friends, and things like your photo and status updates to be visible to everyone. “Custom” and “Other” settings work together to allow you to add exceptions to rules. This is my personal favorite, as I can allow my friends to see my contact information except for those folks who I know would abuse the privilege.

The “Privacy Settings” page is also where you will be able to adjust permissions for applications, update your list of blocked users, and review Facebook’s explanation of its privacy controls.

Why Applications Matter

Applications come in the forms of games, tests, quizzes, and any number of other interactive activity. They are owned by third party companies, crafted to run on the Facebook platform, and in order to use them you must allow them varying levels of access to your information. Applications do let you know what they are looking at when you first use them, and you have the option to accept or decline the use of the application if you don’t like what they’re planning.

Alternatively, you can accept their “required” permissions and then change it to suit your privacy preferences. Or, if you find an app has pulled a bait-and-switch (as some will) and started spamming your newsfeed or posting on your wall (as a small number have done) you can remove them via the “Privacy Settings” page. You can review the apps you use and adjust the access levels for each individual application. You can also remove apps that you don’t use anymore in order to stop them from continuing to access your information.

Protect Your NewsFeed

If you have information that isn’t fit for 100% of your facebook population, you have a couple of sharing options available to you.

Let’s say for example that you don’t particularly want potential employers to find your status update remarking on your crazy weekend in Cabo. Before hitting “submit” on the status update, click the tiny image of a lock next to the submit button. This allows you to customize the privacy settings on that single post. You can set it to “friends only,” or, if it’s your grandma you hope to protect from your wild ways, you can choose to show it to everyone but her. (And your mother. She doesn’t want to know.)

Going a step further, let’s say you had a batch of pictures from the trip that you’d like to share with the twenty people who were there, but not the 400 people on your friend list. Facebook Groups have been restructured to be their own sub-network. You can create a group by adding the people who were on your vacation, post those photos to the group, and the pictures will only show up in the newsfeeds of the folks in the group. It’s quicker if you have a large, but exclusive, group of people to share with. Facebook groups also have three different settings

Public: Anyone can search, join, and interact in the group with no restrictions.

Private: People can search, but must request to join the group.

Secret: Only the person who created the group initially knows it exists. All members must be invited. Does not appear in the search and only exists to it’s members. (recommended option for that Cabo trip, family photos, or sharing semi-secure information)

A Word About Advertisers

In the introduction to this entry I mentioned the strange threat of advertisers using your information to sell to you, and it’s 100% likely that that is happening, but not in the way you think. Your likes, interests, and demographic information is how advertisers reach you on Facebook. An advertiser on Facebook doesn’t see “Mary Smith from Washington, DC, likes CareBears, Gummy Worms, and has a family of five.” Instead, he figures, “Anyone who has a family probably needs life insurance,” and targets his ad for the general population, specifically anyone who has entered family information or “liked” certain family-related pages.

Some folks are bothered by the concept of targeting based on likes and interests, but I think it’s great. I’m more likely to be shown an advertisement for a product or service that truly applies to me, and that’s fine. With me.

It’s fine with me, and I hope it becomes fine with you, because we have the ability -the power, if I may be so cheesy- to protect our information to whatever degree we see fit. Share everything with the world, share nothing with anyone, or find a happy medium: the most important thing to know is that you have the choice, and that you can tailor your usage to the degree that you see fit.


This is post was created by Photos of Raul Colon Web Developer Puerto RicoOnline Marketing Strategist Tommy Walker.

If you have questions, leave a comment here or keep the conversation going with Tommy on Twitter at@tommyismyname.


  1. Anonymous on June 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Couldn’t have said it better myself 🙂

    • Raul Colon on June 6, 2011 at 11:47 pm

      I agree! 

      • Tommy is my name on June 7, 2011 at 7:49 pm

        Lol! That’s my fiancée!

      • Tommy is my name on June 7, 2011 at 7:49 pm

        Lol! That’s my fiancée!

        • Raul Colon on June 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm

          I still agree. it is great she is supporting you! Can I she do the same for my posts “Just Kidding”

      • Tommy is my name on June 7, 2011 at 7:49 pm

        Lol! That’s my fiancée!

  2. Rick on June 7, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Awesome post. I too think that my children have the right to their privacy. I don’t post pictures of them on Facebook, yet some family members have. It puts me in the difficult position of “nicely” requesting that they remove their pictures of my kids. They almost always so not understand why and some have even decided to leave them there. This concerns me deeply.

    • Raul Colon on June 7, 2011 at 5:56 pm

      I agree. I guess it puts all of us in the same position. I have to explain the many reasons why I limit the photos I have shared online. 

      I guess we have to measure intent and they mean no harm. But educating them is so difficult!