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Fear of Facebook: 7 free apps that guard your privacy

March 18, 2013 06:00 AM ET

Then, using a sort of "thermometer" icon, ranks you on 1 to 10 point scale, with 1 being the most dangerous and 10 being the least. It also color-codes rankings: red for dangerous, orange for a middling ranking and green for safe. ranks your Facebook privacy on a scale of 1 to 10.

Above each "thermometer," tells you the number of threats to your privacy. You can click on that number to see details about the danger, as well as advice about how to fix it. For example, in the Privacy analysis, it let you know if your Facebook Profile includes your marital status, names of your children, workplace and educational background. For each threat, it gives advice and links to Privacy settings you may want to change.

All this sounds good, but I found a few shortcomings. For example, in its Profile analysis, lists Facebook posts as "questionable" if they've been posted by an app -- but many people use apps to post to Facebook, and most of them are not privacy invading or created by malware.

Even less useful is a feature called a Profile mood, which is part of the Profile analysis and purports to analyze whether your posts as a whole are negative, neutral or positive. I didn't find that the results at all echoed my general mood (which ranked as "positive").

Note, by the way, that you can scan your children's profiles as well as your own by putting in their passwords -- assuming you have them.


Worried that you've posted objectionable content on Facebook? This free service claims to solve the problem.

Head over to SimpleWash, give it access to Facebook (after the usual app warning), and you're sent to the SimpleWash website, with your Facebook picture in the upper left corner. Click Start and it shows you any objectionable content you've posted, liked or linked to, such as curse words or drug-related words like "smoke."

It's quite a Puritanical little app and goes beyond warning about the usual four-letter expletives. For example, a Computerworld editor who is a birdwatcher had a photo tagged because it contained the word "swallow." If you wish, you can even add words of your own for which the app will scan.

SimpleWash judged this Facebook entry questionable because it contained the word "swallow."

You'll have to do any cleaning up yourself. Click the link to the objectionable content, and you can do whatever needs to be done from there, such as edit the post or remove your "like" from it.

Not being particularly fussy (or a user of four-letter words online), I found this app less than useful. However, if you're a victim of accidental potty mouth or want to make sure your online presence is squeaky clean, you may want to give it a try.

ZoneAlarm Privacy Scan

This simple-to-use Facebook app does exactly what it says -- it scans your Facebook use and privacy settings, reports on whether your privacy is being invaded and, if it is, shows ways in which you can improve your privacy settings.

After the usual notification asking if you want to give the app access to your Facebook account, Privacy Scan shows its results after a few moments, based on your past month of Facebook use. It tells you whether your public posts are visible to everyone, friends of friends or just friends and whether any posts were tagged in the past month; you'll also get a score (ranging from 0 to 100) for your "privacy awareness" based on your Facebook privacy settings.

ZoneAlarm Privacy Scan
ZoneAlarm Privacy Scan scores how private your Facebook account is.

Based on that and on several other factors (whether you've made posts that are visible to everyone, whether your posts are visible to friends of friends and whether you were tagged in any posts), you get an overall privacy "Final Grade." In addition, you see a rundown on Facebook statistics of how many posts, likes, shares and comments you made per month.

There's one drawback to this app: It doesn't actually make any recommendations about how to improve your Facebook privacy based on what it finds out about your Facebook settings. However, if you click the "Score higher and gain more privacy" button at the bottom of the screen, you'll be sent to a page with overall tips on how to increase your privacy on Facebook. That's not as good as customized recommendations based on your Facebook usage (such as those provided by Privacyfix and, but still, it's useful.

is a contributing editor for and the author of more than 45 books, including Windows 8 Hacks (O'Reilly, 2012). See more by Preston Gralla on

Read more about Social Media in Computerworld's Social Media Topic Center.

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