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The Ultimate Guide to Facebook Privacy and Security

Katrina Power

Katrina Power

January 11, 2017

Facebook has redefined the way we interact with each other. Whether you’re trying to chat with an old friend via text, video call your family, or just stay current with the latest trends, Facebook is an integral part of our everyday lives.

This is not always a positive thing.

Despite the many benefits and advantages of this social media giant, there are also drawbacks. The largest drawback is undoubtedly a loss of privacy. Sadly, data that you post on Facebook can be used to launch attacks and mine personal information. Safeguard yourself and your data by implementing the following tips for achieving peak Facebook privacy.

1. Use a Pseudonym

Many users don’t think twice about using their genuine first, middle, and last names – this is a mistake. Facebook has become adept at locating people. It does this based on information such as name, age, common friends, city, place of employment, and similar information.

As such, I highly recommend using a false name. This makes it harder for ghosts of the past to catch up with you. Whether there’s an ex-lover, future employer, past employer, or garden-variety lunatic trying to hunt you down online, an alias will make your profile that bit more private and difficult to find.

2. Increase Password Security

Many people don’t use standard best practices concerning their passwords. This makes it easy for hackers to hijack an account and invade the target’s privacy.

If your password uses easily guessable personal information, such as your dog’s name or your birth year, it is as weak as they come. Instead, use a random password generator. These are included in password managers like KeePass. In addition, create a new password every few months for increased security.

3. Verify Privacy by Viewing Your Profile as a Third Party

Are all of the images, photos, posts, and videos in your profile set to the correct privacy settings? Unless you’ve viewed your profile from the perspective of a stranger, you don’t. Fortunately, it’s a simple matter to see Facebook data from the perspective of another account.

To test the privacy level of your account, click on the padlock icon located on the blue bar in the top-right corner of the page. Next, click on “Who can see my stuff?” then the “View as,” option. Facebook will pull up the version of your profile that is visible to the general public.

The data that is now visible is what strangers see when they visit your profile, so make adjustments if there are posts and photos that should be private.

4. Post Privately

Believe it or not, it’s possible to make all past Facebook posts private. However, doing so is a “one-way street.” There’s no option to reset this configuration change after it’s made. Nevertheless, this privacy feature is a godsend for those who discover the majority of their photos, posts, status updates, and videos are public.

That’s quite a horrifying revelation, but it’s actually a pretty quick fix. Simply click on the arrow in the top-right corner of the Facebook feed (on the blue bar), click on Settings, and then click the Privacy tab. Next, find the option that allows you to “Limit Past Posts”. In one fell swoop, all past posts will be made private.

5. Limit Visibility of Future Posts

Facebook post visibility
In addition to limiting who can see your past posts, it’s also possible to limit who can see anything that you post in the future. Simply visit the Settings menu again and click on the Privacy tab. There, you’ll find a setting labeled “Who can see my future posts?” that you can set to “Friends.” You can also set it to a more select group of Facebook followers by taking advantage of custom groups.

6. Use Groups to Your Advantage

Most people aren’t aware that they can separate their friends into different categories. They can then assign permissions regarding which posts are visible to different groups. For instance, it’s fairly typical to create a “Family” group, a “Colleagues” group, and a standard “Friends” group. This way, posts of your nephew’s birthday party will only be shared with family members, and not spill over into the Facebook feeds of colleagues.

To edit groups and group members, start by visiting your profile’s wall. Then, click on the “Friends” option, which effectively displays all of the friend requests you have accepted. Notice that each friend has a box to the right of his/her profile picture. By default, this box will be labeled “Friends.” By clicking on it, the “Add to another list” option will pop up.

7. Create an Intentional Block List

Facebook block list
It’s a good idea to create a group for the sole purpose of limiting access to your account. The idea is to keep most friends in a default group with severely limited access to your Facebook profile. Whenever a new friend request is accepted, send them to the default, limited-access group for good measure.

This way, potentially embarrassing photos won’t circulate throughout friends’ news feeds. Furthermore, this practice helps build a digital wall between coworkers and employers. This helps to maintain separation between work life and private life. The only posts that members of this group will see are public posts.

8. Remove Email Addresses

Facebook email
It may not seem very consequential to post an email address under a Facebook account’s contact information. However, digital strangers might try to abuse stray email addresses. Firstly, there are less-than-savory individuals who hunt around Facebook to mine email addresses to build mailing lists. But that’s not the worst of it – email addresses can also be used for other, more nefarious purposes.

For instance, there are plenty of reverse email lookup websites that might point to other social profiles and links containing personal information. Hackers can also use email addresses to try to perform password resets on accounts, since it’s likely the username for any given account is your email address. Furthermore, hackers may try to send bad email links that point to phishing sites.

The bottom line is that it’s a bad idea to post email addresses under your contact information. While there are ways to make this information only visible to friends, it’s best practice to avoid posting your email address completely.

9. Remove Phone Numbers

Do you like being on annoying telemarketing lists? Do you want to allow others to perform reverse phone lookups that will further invade your privacy? Care to give complete strangers a way to directly contact you via SMS and voice calls? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then by all means, post your phone number on Facebook.

On the other hand, for those of you who really want to lock down privacy, ensure that your telephone number isn’t listed under you contact information. If you can’t bear to rip this information out of your profile, then at the very least ensure that only your friends can see it.

10. Turn Down Targeted Advertising

Facebook ads
These days, the internet can absorb a lot of information about users behind the scenes, and Facebook is no exception. The whole premise of the “like” and “follow” buttons is built upon being able to track user behavior, trends, and popularity to increase marketing effectiveness.

For instance, if you choose to like a certain product or restaurant, Facebook can then display that business to others in your network of friends and suggest they click the like button as well. To opt out of this process, simply visit the Settings menu and then click on the Ads tab. More specifically, there are three main settings you will want to disable: Ads based on my use of websites and apps, Ads on apps and websites off of the Facebook Companies, and Ads with my social actions.

11. Make Sure Google Can’t Index Your Profile Page

The last thing most of us want is for our Facebook page to show up when a stranger searches for our name in Google. Just imagine what might happen if a potential employer searched for your name in Google, only to find a public Facebook profile littered with reputation-crushing photos from your university days.

Even if a Facebook user follows all the best practices for privacy, it’s still advisable to opt out of being indexed in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Simply click on the down arrow in the top-right corner of your Facebook feed, select Settings, and select Privacy. Under the “Who can look me up?” section, you’ll find that the last setting is labeled, “Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile?” Ensure the box isn’t checked to make it more difficult to be found online.

12. Vet Tags

tags on Facebook
Have you ever been tagged in an unflattering photo that your friend promised they wouldn’t post online? Social media is inherently unpredictable because it’s impossible to control the free will of others. Mostly, this doesn’t come back to bite us in the rear. Sometimes, however, we’d rather not be tagged in a post for a variety of reasons.

Perhaps the post was offensive, the photo was unflattering, or it just seemed inappropriate. Whatever the reason, it’s possible to review photos, links, statuses, and other posts that you’re tagged in before they are posted on your timeline. To edit this setting, visit the Settings menu and click on the Timeline and Tagging section.

Notice the section labeled, “Who can add things to my timeline?” and its sub-feature labeled, “Review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your timeline?” Ensure this setting is enabled and set to “On.” This gives users the power to screen posts that would otherwise be linked to their account.

Nevertheless, note that this only prevents the tagged content from appearing on your timeline. The tagged content will still appear on other timelines, such as the original poster’s.

13. Clean Out The Riff-Raff

A lot of social media users tend to accept all friend requests, even if the person is a complete stranger. But doing so can cause massive invasions of privacy. The first step to ensuring that strangers don’t see personal information is to select which images and content are public and which are private. The second is to decline friend requests from strangers.

It’s generally a bad idea to befriend complete strangers. The Facebook landscape is fraught with sketchy marketers trying to promote products via spam. There’s also a fair share of genuine nut cases and people driven by perverted motives. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Avoid allowing complete strangers to access your Facebook profile and trim down your network of friends every now and then, removing contacts you’ve never met.

14. Only Use the Web Portal to Access Your Account

Though other forms of Facebook access, such as Facebook Messenger, may seem innocuous, they’re actually pretty dangerous. One of the problems with Messenger is that it accesses and controls more resources on your phone than is necessary.

Not only can the Messenger app mine data from your phone, it also allows others to see when you’re actually using the app. The bottom line is that it’s too rife with security and privacy issues to use, so make sure you access Facebook through the HTTPS-secure web portal exclusively.

15. Disable WhatsApp from Sharing Contact Details with Facebook

WhatsApp is notorious for sharing data with Facebook behind the scenes. As such, it’s prudent to disable some of the more intrusive settings. Simply open WhatsApp and open the settings menu. Next, select the account you wish edit. You’ll see a setting labeled, “Share my account info.” Simply select this setting and switch it to “Don’t share.”

16. Don’t Over-share Personal Information

It’s easy to accidentally over-share information at the push of a few buttons. Facebook was intentionally designed to be easy to use. However, posting too much information is inadvisable for several reasons.

First of all, sharing too much information thrashes what remains of your privacy. Secondly, there are physical safety concerns as well. If someone wanted to physically attack or kidnap you, a friend, or a loved one, they could easily audit Facebook information to find your most recent whereabouts.

17. Use Good Judgment Concerning When a Conversation Should Be Private

Have you ever seen two friends quarrel or experienced a lover’s spat publicly on Facebook? It’s embarrassing for everyone involved, though it can provide some unsavory entertainment for eavesdroppers and trolls.

The point is that some conversations need to be private, and belong in private messages rather than posted publicly for all the world to see. When in doubt, make it private!

18. Stop Facebook from Tracking Browsing Activities

Facebook can collect data regarding which other sites you visit and what you search for online. However, there are several things that can be done to prevent Facebook from gathering more data. First, simply log out of Facebook when you’re finished (don’t just close the tab, because that will leave the session open).

Secondly, install a second browser solely for the purpose of accessing Facebook. This will keep cookies separate in the browser you use to access Facebook. It’s also advisable to use a private search engine, like DuckDuckGo. Furthermore, I’d recommend using a privacy extension for your browser like uBlock Origin or Privacy Badger.

Conclusion

Unless you’ve taken action to specifically limit what others can see, there’s likely a veritable gold mine of information about your personal life just waiting to be plucked by hackers and social media users with ill intentions. Our society seems to be sharing more and more personal information online with each passing week.

Remember to implement these best practices to tighten your Facebook security and privacy. Otherwise, an old, embarrassing photo might surface when you least expect it, or unintended parties could access personal information you’d much rather not share.