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A guide to privacy controls in Facebook

A look at how Facebook has responded to extensive complaints about its privacy and security issues

By Julie Sartain
April 1, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Editor's note: This article accompanies "A newbie's guide to Facebook."

Some of the growing pains incurred at Facebook revolve around privacy and security.

Facebook says it respects its members and believes they should have full control over who can view and access their information. Rather than limit that access to everything or nothing -- or to everyone or no one -- Facebook has created privacy controls so members can pick and choose from several levels of access for each of the site's features. Be aware, however, that the default settings tend to allow more access than less, so if you want to limit what others can view, you should consider revising these settings.

The Privacy Controls page.
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Here's a look at the privacy control settings in Facebook and how to manage them.

  1. Log into Facebook
  2. At the top right corner of the screen, select the Privacy option
  3. The Privacy screen lists the Privacy Controls that Facebook offers:
    • Profile
    • Search
    • News Feed and Mini-Feed
    • Applications

In addition, there is an option at the bottom of this page to block individuals from viewing your information.

The Basic Privacy Controls page.
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Profile
On the Profile page (Basic tab), you can choose from one of the four viewing options: My Networks and Friends; Friends of Friends; All Friends; or Customize. They can decide precisely who can view their information for each of the following privacy settings: Profile; Basic Info; Personal Info; Status Updates; Photos Tagged of You; Videos Tagged of You; Online Status; Friends, Wall; Education Info; and/or Work Info.

Under the Contact Information tab, you can set the same viewing allowances (plus one additional option of "No One" for the following privacy settings: IM Screen Name; Mobile Phone; Land Phone; Current Address; Website; and/or E-mail Address.

The Search Privacy Controls page.
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Search
On the Search Privacy Controls page, there are three optional settings. The first setting, "Who Can Find You In Search," allows you to choose from one of six viewing options: Everyone; My Networks and Friends of Friends; My Networks and Friends; Friends of Friends; All Friends; or Customize. In addition, you can choose (or not) to allow Facebook to create a "public search" listing for you and submit that listing for search engine indexing; that is, you can allow anyone to search for you on Facebook.

The last option on this page, called "How Can People Contact You?" provides settings that control how others (who cannot see your profile) are allowed to contact you. These settings consist of a series of check boxes that you can turn on or off by simply checking the box next to each setting. Settings include: See Your Picture; Send You a Message; Poke You; Add You As a Friend; and View Your Friend List.

The News Feed Privacy Controls page.
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News Feed and Mini-Feed
This Privacy Control page contains settings that tell Facebook which stories it can publish in your Mini-Feed; that is, the published data that appears when you edit your profile, join a new network or update your status. However, you can select from a list of 12 other "stories," such as Write a Wall Post; Add a Friend; Post On a Discussion Board; and so on, for inclusion in the Mini-Feeds (or not).

And because Facebook generally publishes information about your applications, you can edit which applications appear on your Profile, Application Menu or News Feed from this menu as well. For example, your Events, Groups, Gifts, Marketplace and so on.

Applications
This Privacy Control page (under the first tab titled Authorized Applications) lists the applications you have used and allows you to authorize (or not) the individuals connected to these applications to access your information. Facebook currently has more than 7,000 independent developer's applications for Facebook members to use. You may (or may not) want these developers and their colleagues to know how to contact you.

The Authorize Other Applications page.
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The second tab, Other Applications, provides privacy settings for the applications built by Facebook (for apps that have not already been set up on another menu), such as Work History, Religious Views and so on. You can choose to share (or not) by checking or unchecking the boxes. In addition, this page shows a list of any/all applications that you have elected to block.

It takes a little time to navigate through each menu and define the access levels for each feature, but if you suddenly start getting e-mails or odd postings from total strangers (especially individuals you don't care to know), it's worth the effort.

Facebook also notes that questions or ideas can be addressed to privacy@facebook.com.

Sartain is a freelance writer in Utah. She can be reached at julesds@comcast.net.

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