In terms of scale, reach, and influence on the Internet, the Facebook app is only rivaled by Google. A behemoth with more than 2 billion active users, Facebook has evolved from a small network of university students to a massive ecosystem that’s home to trillions of records including images, videos, statuses, comments, reactions, ads, and events. In many ways, Facebook has become a content supermarket where its most active users have less and less reason to venture outside it.
While this level of success is certainly great news for Facebook’s shareholders, employees, contractors, and advertisers, it’s not necessarily a positive for users. For the average Internet user, Facebook contains the most information they’ve ever shared on the web. If you don’t take precautions on your personal Facebook data, you may find yourself the target of identity theft, extortion, hacking, or financial fraud.
Here’s how to minimize the sensitive personal information you divulge on Facebook.
1. Optimize core privacy settings
To lock down your profile, go to the settings menu and click on Privacy. Check what Facebook users can see your posts. Change from Public to Friends. If you want to secure your privacy even further, select Only Me.
2. Limit access on a post-by-post basis
Facebook allows you to specify the audience for each post. You can post something but limit access to a select group of friends.
When you click on Update Status, go to the drop-down menu next to the Friends option, choose More Options then proceed to Custom. You’ll see suggestions of friends to grant access to (usually friends you’ve selected before or communicate with most frequently). If you don’t see someone on the list of suggestions, start to type their name and they’ll come up.
3. Keep photos and videos private
No personal Facebook data is as revealing of who you are as the photos and videos you post. They not only give a face to the name but can also provide details of your friends and family, where you live and work, what you own, and the things you like to do.
If you’ve been an active Facebook user for several years, chances are that you’ve uploaded hundreds or thousands of photos to your account. Such images are a goldmine for burglars, hackers, fraudsters, identity thieves, extortionists, stalkers, or anyone else with malicious intent.
If you’ve already hidden your posts from everyone else except Friends, your content including photos is protected from public view. Nevertheless, there may be photos you aren’t comfortable with your friends seeing (especially past indiscretions you may not be too proud of).
Click on your name on the menu bar and choose Photos. Proceed to the Your Photos option (which are the photos you have taken) and delete the photos you’d like to remove. Next, click on the Photos of You (which are images someone else tagged you in), hover over the offending one and on clicking the edit icon, choose Hide from Timeline.
4. Conceal your age
You are free to share your birth date, month, and year on Facebook with the public. Is it really necessary though? Remember, if someone is trying to build a fake persona based on your person, the more information they know about you, the more likely they are to be successful.
To hide your age, go the Edit Profile menu and proceed to the About section. Choose Contact and Basic Info then under Basic Information you’ll see the birth date you provided to Facebook. You can edit the date of birth to restrict who sees the day, month, or year of your birth.
Ideally, you should restrict the year of birth to Only Me then select Friends for day and month if you wish for them to receive an alert on your birthday.
5. Hide relationship status
Facebook brings friends together. What better way of making the most of the app than sharing the current status of your love life? If you think about it though, the people you’d want to keep abreast of your relationship status are your family and closest circle of friends. You are likely in regular contact with this inner circle outside the confines of the Internet.
So instead of letting your Facebook friends, friends of friends, or the public know whenever you are married, divorced, in a situationship, or are single, keep your love life private. Go to Edit Profile, About then Family and Relationships. Ignore the Married, Single, Divorced, and Complicated options. Instead, choose the horizontal line at the top of the drop-down list of options to ensure your status won’t appear on your profile.
6. Restrict friend requests
Facebook friend requests from strangers are fairly common. Female users are especially prone to this nuisance and can quickly find themselves grappling with thousands of requests from people they’ve never met or talked to.
Such volumes can drown out legitimate requests from the people you do know and only makes your efforts at connecting with your real friends, family, and professional colleagues that much harder. To prevent random strangers from sending you friend requests, go to the settings menu, select Privacy and under ‘Who can contact me,’ choose Friends of Friends.
7. Hide your friends list
A tactic social engineers will use when they identify a victim they’d like to connect to is to scroll through the target’s Facebook friends list and send friend requests to several of the friends. Once their requests have been accepted by a couple of the people on the friends list, they’ll then submit a friend request to the target. Their request will now have some credibility because the targeted individual will see that they have several Facebook friends in common.
To prevent such social engineering attacks, conceal your friends list by going to the top-most menu bar and clicking on your name. On the list of options, click on Friends. Next to Find Friends, click the edit button (a pencil icon) and proceed to Edit Privacy. On the drop-down list, select Only Me.
8. Limit the rights of third-party apps
Most apps today will allow you to sign up with your Facebook account. To do this, you have to grant the app certain permissions. It’s vital that every so often you review what apps have access to your personal Facebook data and what they can do with the access. Can the app post to your friends list? Who can see you have the app installed? What profile information can it access? (such as friends list, pages liked, groups joined, date of birth, place of work, etc.).
Delete access for all apps you no longer use or need. For those that you retain, limit sharing permissions to Only Me and get rid of all nonessential access to your profile details.
9. Don’t post revealing information
The points we’ve covered so far focus on altering your profile’s settings. However, your posting habits are just as important. There are aspects of your life that you don’t want known even to people on your friends list.
Don’t place your home address on your Facebook profile since it means all your connections will know exactly where you live. You don’t have to announce when, where, and how you are going on vacation. It’s tempting to show people that you are living your best life but it won’t feel so smart when a burglar uses that tip to break into your home while you are away.
Keep pictures of your children at the absolute minimum. There’s no harm in posting your kids’ pics when they mark a major milestone or achievement. However, you should never share any personal Facebook data that gives away too much information about them. Never indicate what school they attend or the places they like to go on weekends.
Don’t share your house’s layout. You are just making it easier for burglars to find their way around and get out quickly. Don’t vent about your boss or employer — your grumbling could get to them and render you jobless. Avoid sharing or hinting at your passwords, credit or bank account information, social security numbers, where you work, or a medical condition you have.
10. Don’t share stuff that you might have to delete later
The hottest catchphrase on social networking apps at the moment is “Felt cute, might delete later.” Often this is said in jest and the person posting likely has no intention of deleting the flattering photo. But this popular caption alludes to a real danger around the images, statuses, and comments you post on a platform as massive as Facebook.
Before you post anything, think about whether it’s something you might be embarrassed about in future. That won’t always be apparent. We all grow every day so there’s always a possibility that some of the things you found fun and harmless in your 20s are deeply embarrassing in your 30s.
To make sure you catch these both old and new posting mishaps, review your personal Facebook data every three to six months and weed out anything that doesn’t feel right.
Be social, but protect your personal Facebook data
Facebook can be a useful personal and business tool. Nevertheless, there’s a fine line between the app’s powerful utility and the need to protect your privacy. The nuclear option (deleting your Facebook account altogether) may not be practical for most of us. By applying these tips, you can ensure your personal Facebook data (including profile and activity) doesn't endanger your safety or assets.