For years I was one of those curmudgeons that refused to use Facebook in any capacity. I’ve been turned around on that a little bit because of the success of the Mac Power Users and Free Agents Facebook groups at creating a safe, fun place to talk about shared interests. They are both special communities. Nevertheless, Facebook can be a dangerous place if you care anything about your privacy.
There’s a lot of questions about Facebook lately and I’ve been receiving a lot of email from listeners on the subject. I should preface this post by saying I am hardly a Facebook power user. I log in to participate in the above two groups, but that’s about it.
Nevertheless, even this limited exposure could get me in trouble because Facebook likes to collect data. Between the news of the last few weeks plus the recent discovery that they can also collect your call and text history, I decided it was time to spend a little bit of time tuning up my own Facebook settings and thought I should share with you. So here are a few things you can do today.
1. Delete All Facebook Applications from your Phone (and iPad).
A lot of the trouble arising from Facebook starts with their mobile applications. The trouble is that your phone has a lot of information about you and Facebook is insatiably hungry for information about you. Moreover, over the years we’ve had plenty of evidence that Facebook hasn’t been a real team player on the iPhone and they’ve done all sorts of dirty tricks to make sure their app is always front and center. This is both creepy, and it kills your battery faster.
I understand for a lot of people this is asking a lot. Their phone is their primary window into Facebook, and if that is really what you want, I don’t begrudge you. However, if you can live without Facebook on your phone, I think you’re better off. I just use Facebook in the browser on my Mac (or the browser on my iPad), and it’s just fine.
2. Audit your Privacy Settings
One thing Facebook has improved over the years is exposing its privacy settings. Years ago it felt like playing a videogame to find your way to the proper screens. Now it’s all combined in your setting screen under the privacy tab. Go through it and make changes to suit your level of comfort. I would recommend erring on the side of caution. You can always go back and make the settings more open if you’re finding that the more conservative settings are getting in the way.
3. Audit your Application Installations
A big part of the recent problems is that the Facebook API is so liberal that apps you authorize are taking a lot more information than you may think. I have not authorized any apps to access my Facebook data and given the limited way in which I use a service; I expect I never will.
You may have some apps that you want to use with Facebook and that is fine but make sure it is your conscious decision to opt in. Take a close look at the apps tab in your Facebook settings and make sure you feel comfortable with every app you’ve authorized to access your data.
Note there is also a setting on this screen, Apps Others Use, to edit the amount of information other people’s applications can use when accessing your Facebook data. I recommend tapping the edit button and making appropriate changes. I leave very little data exposed this way.