8: Privacy Settings

(EN: Repeating this notice at the head of each chapter: the specific details of this book are likely outdated, but the core concepts of social networking are likely timeless.)

One of the most common concerns about social networks is the degree to which information is private or public. Certain comments may be intended only for certain people, and users generally want to restrict who can view information about them. Facebook provides controls to manage this.

(EN: The author doesn't stress the importance of discretion quite enough for my liking: beyond modesty and discretion, personal details may be used to embarrass or blackmail a person, to gain access to even more sensitive data such as medical records, or to assume a person's identity to gain access to their financial accounts. It's a very serious issue and merits more consideration than is given here.)

(EN: It's also worth noting, regarding FB in particular, that they have not been as careful as many would like. While some blame falls on the users who are indiscreet or careless, or who make unreasonable assumptions about privacy, there are others who are discreet and careful and make seemingly reasonable assumptions. But FB seems dismissive of this, casual about changing policies and account settings, and couching the details about changes in lengthy legal disclosures. What is reasonable to expect, and what FB is morally obligated to do, and how prominently users should be informed, are matters of constant conjecture and debate.)

Privacy Basics

Facebook has "default" privacy settings for various information related to your account. The author does not go into granular detail, but suggests that "the default level of these settings is not quite adequate" for most people, and acknowledges that FB will change these settings of its own accord, so it merits consideration and periodic attention.

(EN: I've seen advice elsewhere to check your settings anytime you notice any change on the site, which seems reasonable. Even if it's seemingly minor, changes are often implemented in batches, such that you may not see evidence of a change to which you would object. Others advise checking periodically, once a month, or every time you log on. The latter seems excessive, but it's largely a matter of personal comfort with potential leakage.)

Privacy settings can be accessed from the "other actions" menu at the right side of the top navigation bar, which enables users to se default privacy and how information is sahred when connecting, tagging, using apps, using other sites.

Privacy can also be set for your profile, on specific elements or groups of elements, and when you add content to FB (status updates, photos, events, etc.) you can set the level of access for individual items.

Generally, the options available for items are:

Aside of these settings related to items, there are also block lists of people and groups who should be entirely blocked from seeing anything about you. A block list is understood to take precedence over any other privacy setting

The author strolls through the privacy settings page, commenting on specific items:

Connecting on Facebook

The first section of privacy settings determines how visible you are and how people may communicate with you. By default, these are set very open because FB wants you to be visible to, connect with, and communicate with as many people as possible.

You may choose to be invisible to anyone who isn't already a friend, allow "friends of friends" to connect, to allow anyone to connect, and determine who can send messages and post on your wall. More granular control is provided in the "edit profile" task.

(EN: There is debate over whether shutting some people out is contrary to the spirit of a social network. Some people want control, others want everyone to be open. My take on it is that the "others" do not have psychotic ex-girlfriends who, even twenty years later, have not moved on with their lives.)

Sharing on Facebook

The author refers to a "sharing" section that no longer seems to exist. The ability to control how information is shared is still present, but you have to adjust these settings in other locations, such as your profile page or when posting a status update or other item.

Apps and Websites

Another setting on FB enables you to set privacy for various applications, games, and services that leverage FB data.

Each application you have granted permission to interact with your account is listed, and the data you share with them is indicated (in vague terms), and you have the ability to remove certain information (if it is not "required" by the app) or remove the app entirely, blocking future access.

(EN: The author doesn't mention that an APP or game must ask permission to access personal information, that many do not indicate what exact information they are requesting permission to access, what company is accessing the information, or what they will do with the information. Moreover, many applications do not permit you to control what they access - it's "all or nothing." The situation leaves much to be desired, is not likely to be remedied soon. My own take on the matter is it's not worth sharing this level of information with unknown parties for the sake of the frivolous content they provide.)

Limit Access to Old Posts

(EN: The author does not mention this, and I expect it is a new feature, but it appears to be badly implemented. When you click the link, it gives you two warnings, no indication you will have control over what happens - the "oldness" of the posts, whether they are filtered or removed, etc.- and advises you manage the older posts individually, which is tedious. I'm hoping they are just testing this feature and will provide a less clumsy version later.)

Block Lists

The "block lists" feature enables you to see users and applications whom you have blocked, in case you want to un-block them.

There are also options to proactively block specific individuals, or block certain things (such as invites), or to restrict certain "friends" to seeing only information that is public.

(EN: Again, this is a bit sloppy, and the more efficient method of doing things is to block people and apps individually, and restrict access to individual bits of content that are posted.)

Account Security

The author provides some basic advice for things you can do, procedurally, to help keep your data on Facebook safe. It's generally no-nonsense advice, such as choosing a good password, not sharing your password with others, being wary of phishing attempts (e-mails that direct you to fake sites and ask for your Facebook login), and making sure you log out if you check your account from a public computer.

A "security" menu in the account settings enables you to take additional precautions, like using a security question to validate yourself, browsing by secure protocols (https), sending e-mail when an unrecognized device connects to your account, etc.

(EN: Other sources have stronger advice, such as refraining from entering you FB password on other sites that request it, and refraining form using FB features such as like or share that are embedded in third-party sites. Some of this seems a bit extreme, but given the popularity of FB and its attractiveness to identity thieves, it's likely a good idea to be very cautious.)

Reporting Abuse

Facebook enables the community to police itself by providing links throughout the site to report content that is offensive or inappropriate. The content will be made invisible to you, and forwarded to the FB administrators who will consider whether further action should be taken.

Because content you report is blocked, you will have no ability to reconsider and retract your report. And because reports are taken seriously, up to and including banishing users and removing their accounts, you should consider whether it might be better to simply block an item or remove it rather than reporting it.

(EN: No indication is provided of what actions, if any, FB takes against users who over-use the reporting features to attempt to silence people they don't like. There's speculation and rumor over whether these people are merely ignored or are themselves banned from the site, but I have not seen any credible accounts of consequences to ban-happy users.)

Deactivating or Deleting Your Account

Two options are provided for removing yourself from Facebook: deactivation and deletion.

You can "deactiveate" your account from the security settings menu, which preserves all information that has been provided byt makes it inaccessible to the community. This enables you to reactivate it later.

The author suggests this might be a desirable option for a person going on an extended vacation, or who just needs a break from FB for a while. (EN: Which seems a bit odd, as it entails completely "disappearing" and leaving people to wonder what happened. Better to post a status update indicating you will be absent, and then just not log in.)

Deleting an account is a dramatic action, which involves removing your account and permanently deleting all information about you. People don't generally want to do this, and FB doesn't want them to do so, and as such it's difficult to find - you have to search the help center to find instructions, and they make it rather difficult to submit the request.

Memorializing Accounts

When a FB user dies, friends of family can request their account to be placed in a "memorialized" status, which keeps the old posts active and allows their FB friends to post messages to their wall.

Login access to the account is disabled, though if you discover your account was memorialized accidentally, there is a procedure for getting it reactivated.

FB also claims that verified immediate family members can request the complete removal of a person's FB account, which is the equivalent of deleting it. (EN: Not much information is provided, here or on the FB site, on how to go about this. Likely they don't want this done as a prank.)