Solve your Facebook privacy problem in under a minute

Facebook's privacy settings are a complicated mess. It's a full-time job just fine-tuning all the controls. But you can solve the problem in under a minute, and continue to enjoy Facebook. Here's how.

Blogger Robert Scoble describes how he solved his Facebook privacy problem: "I changed all my settings to 'as public as possible.'"

That's step 1. There is no step 2.

I did the same thing when I joined Facebook in 2007. I've done the same on every social network I've joined, since I started doing social media more than 15 years ago. I share a lot on social media -- you might even say I share compulsively -- and all of it is public.

This is not because I'm an exhibitionist. It's not because I don't value my privacy. On the contrary, I value my privacy quite a bit. I value it too much to share the details with a company started by a bunch of college kids who are strangers to me.

Sure, these companies all promise your privacy is important to them. At first. But dangle a few hundred millions of dollars in front of the founders, and they'll sell you out.

Not that a blame them. I'd sell you out too, for a few hundred million dollars.

I love Facebook. I really do. I've particularly enjoyed the opportunity to get in touch with my old high-school friends and former co-workers. Those conversations have enriched my life hugely over the past year. I will kiss Mark Zuckerberg on both cheeks for creating Facebook, if I ever have an opportunity to meet him.

I open all the doors and windows on Facebook, and the other social media sites I participate in, and happily use them, secure in the knowledge that my credit-card numbers, intimate details of my lifestyle, and confidential workplace discussions are a million miles away.

Scoble and I are not alone in this philosophy. Blogger J. Brad Hicks describes why he still uses Facebook: "I follow tech industry news; I've known that Facebook is the high-crime neighborhood of the Internet, almost certainly known this for more years than most of you have. I handle myself there the way I handle myself in any high-crime neighborhood: politely, but circumspectly."

I love the metaphor: Facebook as a dangerous neighborhood. Sometimes you want to go to the dangerous neighborhood, because you have to go through there to get to where you want to go, or because that's where the great ethnic food is, or because your bohemian friends live there. If you keep alert and keep your wits about you, you'll be fine.

Enjoy Facebook. Just don't trust it, or any other social media, with your confidential information. Not Facebook, not Twitter, not your blog, no social media platform.

This raises an opportunity for someone to create a social network that can be trusted. Somewhere you can safely vent about your workplace frustrations, or health concerns, without fear of the information being seen by the wrong people. A few students at NYU are working on just that, trying to bootstrap Diaspora, a private alternative to Facebook. But why should I trust those college students more than I trusted the college students who founded Facebook?

And what would a trustworthy social media platform look like? How would we know it can be trusted?

Mitch Wagner is a freelance technology journalist and social media marketing consultant. Follow him on Twitter: @MitchWagner.

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