Ars Technica has an article today outlining some excellent techniques for safeguarding your privacy while using Facebook. One of the best methods explained in the article is to cordon off your friends into different groups of people, and to then set different permissions for those groups. Thus, the common technique is to put your ex-partners into one group, your friends into another, family into another, and thus down the line.
But in practice this technique is nigh on impossible. I have family members (such as cousins) that are close friends, and so-called friends that, really, I haven’t talked to since high school. Beyond this, managing the groups is a problem too since over time, some of your friends become closer and others more distant.
Thinking through this problem, I have come up with a better, and perhaps more obvious solution: Simply organize your Facebook friends into groups based on how much you want those people to know about you. In practice I found this to be fairly simple with only three groups: Loose Privacy, Standard Privacy, and Strict Privacy. Bosses, ex-partners and distant friends go into the Strict category, close friends and current partners go into the Loose category, and everybody else goes into the Medium category.
Admittedly, this dumbs down the power that Facebook gives you to categorize your friends into groups, but in practice, it’s much easier to maintain, since there are only three lists, and it’s clear who belongs in which.
A second group of settings that people are likely unaware of are those that “limit what types of information your friends can see about you through applications.” These are important and creepy because by default, when your friends install an application, that application can see and aggregate an incredible quantity of information about you, even without your or your friend’s permission or knowledge. As part of its dotrights campaign, the ACLU is currently working on an application that demonstrates this loophole, but for the moment, it’s probably wise to adjust these settings.
To adjust these settings so third-party applications can see as little information as possible (without your friends simply not using them), go to Settings > Privacy > Applications, and then click on the “Other” tab (this link should also work, if you’re logged in). Once on that page, uncheck all of the boxes in the first section, and save your settings.
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