People who follow even the slightest information on the internet are at least aware of the risks associated with your public face.  The ones which spring to mind first for me are things associated with employers checking your personal life out and possibly more seriously, identity theft.  You might think “Oh it’ll never happen to me!”, the fact is it could, and it ?might, so you might as well spend a few minutes lowering the risk.  After all ignorance isn’t really an excuse when you find out you are being held up when coming back from holiday because you’ve committed fraud in another country you’ve never been to.  Sure you might be able to sort it out in the end but it sure wouldn’t be easy to fix and can be avoided.

Why pick on Facebook? There are plenty of other sites which make your information public.

Why this article picks Facebook as it’s example isn’t only because of it’s size and popularity but mostly because of the ideals behind it’s development.  Amongst many online communities there has been a huge backlash against Facebook for their “irresponsibility”.  In fact some large communities which I read regularly have published several articles showing guides how to quit or at least “cripple” your Facebook experience.  The “irresponsibility” that a large number of people have backlashed against is because of how Facebook fundamentally operates an “opt out” mentality rather than the usual “opt in” method of offering new services to its users.  It also happens that these functions happen to always result in your information being public by default.  Ok…so what you might say?  Well there are some pretty important reasons which you should at least know about…

Well one particular feature which was released for Facebook not so long ago was something which basically allows other websites to look at information on your Facebook and therefore tailor content on their sites to your interests e.t.c  Well sure you might think that’s great, when I go to other sites they’ll be more applicable to me, so for some I suppose it is good.  The thing is I personally don’t like the idea of my personal information being spread across hundreds of databases all over the internet without my consent.  That in essence is what Facebook did to every user on it without doing anything except that privacy notice at the top of your home page feed saying they updated their privacy policy.  I read it, but I know most people probably just clicked close.  So for many of you who haven’t altered you profile privacy settings then in all likelihood your information is still being spread…all over the internet.  There was also the most recent update which opted you in to having your status updates and logins from several other online communities (Foursquare for example) post your location on your profile.  This is not something I’d advise anyone doing – having some people know where you are is safe, having the whole world know where you are…is not.  If you don’t care about this issue then this article isn’t for you so you can save some time and go elsewhere.  For others continue below:

So if it’s so “bad” and “irresponsible” then why does Facebook continue in the same way update after update?

Now I don’t have anything against Facebook for doing this.  After all Facebook is a business and businesses aim to make money, in fact I think it is a brilliant business model.  Irresponsible it may be, but if I was in Facebook’s position I’d do the same thing.  Having information public on Facebook is the main way Facebook makes money.  The more information you have public, the more adverts on the site can be catered to your needs by sharing that information, the more clicks the adverts get, the more Facebook can charge for adverts (very very basic explanation).  There are also issues with Facebook applications sharing information and themselves making money, further increasing the spread of information.

So you’ve read this and you want to make your profile a bit more secure and manage the information you want to be visible to the outside world.  You could quit Facebook (safest option) however that isn’t really practical for many of us as we use it as an easy method of communication and to keep up with distant friends (although I really don’t condone it, talking on Facebook does not count in my opinion).  So what can you do?  You can do what was done in the article here if you like but once again I think that is a little too extreme for the average student or professional (probably suitable if you are a high powered banker or going into a very public career such as politics).  Well the fundamentals lie in the privacy settings on Facebook and in order not to cripple your Facebook experience, Friend Lists.

The nitty gritty of it.

In all likelihood now that you are aware of the situation you probably don’t require much more information from me.  However just in case you feel uncomfortable fiddling with settings in your Facebook account I will outline the basics below.  The first thing you should be aware of that privacy on Facebook means putting the least amount of information on your account as possible.  That means things like not having a wall, not showing pictures or videos, not showing your interests or information such as personal email accounts or mobile numbers on you profile.  Bearing that in mind you may still want some information to be available to select friends and that is where friend lists come into play.  The idea is to create a new list of people who you are giving the OK to seeing your Facebook content – I’d recommend this be people you regularly see in real life rather than that hottie you added who worked at that bar (you can create another list for them if you want later).

The way you create a list is shown as step by step instructions through the gallery below – instructions are shown below the images if you just click on them – for a more cinematic guide click on the “view with PicLens” link just below:

If you have any trouble with any of these steps then please feel free to comment below and I will either explain to you directly how to deal with your issue, or amend the guide to make your step clearer for you.

Making friend lists can have more uses than just staying private on the web.  For example it can also be used to control who can and cannot see you are online in Facebook Chat.  When you create a list – that list and the people in it appear in your chat list in the bottom right.  If you click the little green toggle switch next to the title of these lists then you can go offline for just that list rather than completely.  So you could create a list called “No Rubbish Chat” and add people to it that annoy you.  This allows you to just go offline for those people when you just aren’t in the mood for “Rubbish Chat” but still want to talk to someone else like family or a loved one.  I’d like to add that I’d quite like it (since I explained it) that none of my friends do this to me… no matter how annoying I get :D.

You can use your Facebook, type in your details one off (your email remains private), or register on the site.  Please do share this article with your friends using the buttons below if you believe this post to be helpful to them.  Any questions?  Use the comments below – I’ll get back to you pronto!

Note Lifehacker just recently released it’s top ten tips for Facebook.  It is probably worth quickly popping in there just to scroll down the list to spot a few more things you can do to improve your safety even further.  It also links to a few examples of the problems with the Facebook “opt-in” mentality.

Also – REMEMBER next time Facebook updates anything or the privacy policy notification comes up – check your privacy settings haven’t been changed back to public.  This does happen on occasion and is something which I think is really bad.  Adding more things which you are automatically public for is one thing, but changing the settings you have gone through and changed back…well that is something I don’t agree with, and you should watch out for :D.  Happy (Safe (er)) Facebooking!