How to protect yourself on Facebook

(Image: PCWorld)

21 March 2018

If the recent scandal over Facebook’s attitude to data and how third parties make use of it has turned you off the social network, well you’re not alone. Still, if you want to hold off on going nuclear and deleting your profile there are some things to make sure you know what is being held on you and who has access to it.

The best way to see what you’re publicly sharing is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Go to your profile page, tap the three dots icon on your cover photo and choose View as. By default you will see your Facebook profile as seen by a random member of the public, but you can also click ‘View as specific person’. If you’re not happy with what you see, follow the tips below to secure your Facebook profile.

Don’t accept all Facebook friend requests
There are friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends who went to the same school etc… If you don’t know them first hand, don’t add them. Simple. It’s also worth going through your friends list every so often and weeding out people you haven’t recently spoken to and weed them out. They won’t even miss you from their news feed – assuming they haven’t muted your posts after a brief flutter of interaction.

You can also avoid random people sending your requests. In Settings, Privacy, How can people find and contact you is an option for ‘Who can send you friend requests?’ By default this will be set to Everyone, but you can change this to Friends of friends only using the drop-down menu. If they don’t know any of the people you know, they won’t be able to add you.

Keep in mind ‘Dunbar’s number’ named after the psychologist and evolutionary anthropologist: the average person can maintain 150 stable relationships at a time. Anything beyond that and you’re getting into personal branding or enjoying a long and pointless ego trip.

Watch what your kids are doing
Facebook has an age limit of 13 years (the government’s proposed ‘digital age of consent’), but it’s easy to get around and even 13-year-olds need protecting online. If you have a young child using Facebook, check that they know who they are talking to, that those people really are who they say they are, and that what they are saying is appropriate – cyberbullies, paedophiles and groomers are using ever-more sophisticated tactics.

Consider what you post to Facebook
Have you ever read someone’s posts every day on Facebook but walked past them in the street and not even acknowledged them? If the answer to that question is not yes then you’re in the minority.

Not everyone who views your profile is your friend, and not all can be trusted with your most intimate personal details.

You should also rein in on those holiday check-in posts. Advertising that you’re away for a week is like a hot tip to a burglar and no one wants to come back to a ransacked home. The website Pleaserobme.com shows how easy it is to put yourself at risk.

Share Facebook posts privately
Ensure your profile is locked down so that only approved friends see what you share. To do so, open Facebook and click on the downward triangle at the top right corner of the page and choose Settings. Under the privacy tab you’ll find an option for who can see your future posts. Click Edit and choose Friends, or choose More Options to select a custom list.

This is a global setting, but you can also specify who can see individual posts. Before you hit Post on a new status, click the three dots to the right of the Feeling/Activity button, then from the drop-down menu that appears select Friends or select More Options to specify a custom list.

If you don’t want to dump hordes of casual acquaintances or business contacts from your profile, creating lists at least gives you the option to share updates with your entire following or just subsets of friends.

Secure old Facebook posts
That takes care of future posts, but what about those you shared before you became concerned about Facebook privacy? Still in Settings, Privacy, Who can see my stuff is an option to ‘Limit the audience for posts you’ve shared with friends of friends or public?’ Set this to ‘Limit Past Posts’.

Secure Facebook posts you’re tagged in
Facebook is a social network, which means it’s not all about what you do but also what your friends do. And they can tag you in all sorts of stuff that will be visible to all on your profile and in the News feed – if you let them.

Open Settings, Timeline and Tagging and carefully check each option here. You can control who can post on your timeline, who can see posts you’ve been tagged in and even set Facebook to gain your approval before the tag is applied.

Hide your phone number on Facebook
Facebook mobile nags and nags until you add your phone number to the service, but you don’t necessarily want that information to be visible to all who view your profile.

Open the drop-down for ‘Who can look you up using the phone number you provided’ under Settings, Privacy, How can people find and contact me. You can do the same for your e-mail address above.

Block people on Facebook
Having followed the above steps your Facebook profile will be reasonably secure from people not in your friends list. But it’s the ones you do know that could become an issue.

To block a Facebook member from being able to see your profile, go to Settings, Blocking and add their name under Block users. Click Block to save the change.

You can also block existing friends by visiting their profile, tapping the three dots icon on their cover photo and choosing Block.

Restrict what others see on your Facebook profile
There is a middle ground between your best friends or acquaintances and your enemies. For instance: your boss. You can’t reasonably reject his friend request, but you don’t want him to see what you get up to on a Friday night.

Go to Settings, Blocking and choose Edit List next to Restricted List. Add their name here and they will see only what you publicly share (which is hopefully not very much).

Hide your birthday and other personal details
If you’re using the desktop version of Facebook, click the question mark icon to the left of the downward arrow at the top right of the page. Select Privacy Check-up.

The first two steps will take you through limiting who can see your posts and which apps have access to your account. The third option lets you hide certain elements of your personal information, such as your birthday or birth year from your profile.

If there’s something here you don’t want anyone to see, tap on the drop-down and choose Only Me. You can also access these settings from the About tab on your profile page.

Choose which apps can post to Facebook
Every time you like a game or service on Facebook it is added to your apps list, and some of these apps may have been unwittingly granted permission to post to your profile whenever they like without first requiring your approval. Worse, they can access your data – so you might want to stop that.

Go to Settings, Apps and have a browse through the apps listed here. Underneath each app is information about who they can share information with. I set all mine to Only Me, since I find apps and games that post your achievements an annoyance, especially when they clog up the News feed, but you can also choose Public, Friends, Friends of Friends or Custom.

In this pop-up window you can also see what information is shared with the app – if you’re not happy, hover the mouse cursor over the app and click the X to remove it.

Change your Facebook password
Forget about what people can see on your profile for a moment. Consider that with the correct knowledge they could directly access your account and make posts on your behalf, read your private messages and even lock you out of your account. Facebook has a whole section of its Settings menu devoted to this – you’ll find it in Settings, Security and login.

Here you’ll be able to do such things as approve only certain apps and browsers from accessing your profile (in other words those on your own phone or PC), get a notification when someone logs into your account, use your phone as an extra layer of security and more.

If you ever have any reason to suspect someone has access to your account, change your password. You can do this in Settings, Security and Login, Change password. Be sure to use a strong password that won’t be easily guessed.

Protect Facebook from advertisers
Facebook is a free service, but increasingly makes money from adverts displayed on the site. Targeted advertising is that which looks at your activity, likes and history in order to serve up ads most likely to appeal to you. In many ways that’s a good thing, but some people just don’t like advertisers having access to so much information about them.

Open Settings, Ads and study the options here. You can choose to allow or deny targeted advertising, and also stipulate whether your friends can see adverts about things you appear to endorse.

If you’ve done all this and still aren’t satisfied, the best way to go off the Facebook radar is to delete your account.

Temporarily disable Facebook
An alternative for those who aren’t entirely sure they’ll never want to come back to Facebook is to disable their account. This way they won’t lose any of their stuff, such as contacts and photos. You can do this by taking the following steps:

  • Log into Facebook in your browser
  • Tap the down arrow at the top right of the page and choose Settings
  • Click Edit next to ‘Manage account’
  • Click ‘Deactivate your account’ at the bottom of the page
  • Enter your Facebook password
  • Give a reason for leaving, tick the Email Opt-out button, then click Deactivate
  • You can re-enable your account at any point by signing into Facebook

Permanently delete Facebook
Be aware that permanent deletion of your Facebook account cannot be undone. If you’re 100% sure, visit the Delete Account page in your Web browser
Click ‘Delete my account’.

Before you go: download your data
If you want to keep the information and data on your Facebook account before you delete it, you can download everything as an archive onto your computer. Facebook can download the posts, photos and videos you’ve shared, your messages and chat conversations, information from the About section of your profile, and more.

  • Log into Facebook in your browser
  • Tap the down arrow at the top right of the page and choose Settings
  • On the main General Account Settings page click the link at the bottom to ‘Download a copy of your Facebook data’
  • Click ‘Start my Archive’

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