In the past month there has been a great uproar over Facebook’s laissez faire attitude towards the privacy of their users. A wonderful infographic shows how, over time, Facebook’s overall default privacy setting has become more and more “public”. The problem is not that our information on Facebook is visible to the world, indeed the whole point of social networks is to share, however the sudden alterations to its privacy policies, coupled with system-wide changes to every users privacy settings has meant that few are able to ascertain what data is private and what is public.
A small confession, this first application is not a tool that will help you determine whether your personal profile is private or not, rather it merely elucidates the danger of ignoring the settings altogether.
Openbook describes itself as drawing attention to the information that Facebook makes public about its users via its search API. Their aim is to have Facebook restore the privacy of the users.
The fun begins when you click on “Search for more Facebook Updates”
Here, you are able to choose a word or phrase to search and even decide whether you want you want the status update to originate from a guy or girl. The phrase “boss is an asshole” has become one of the highest searched terms on this site. It is evident that the users who have made these status updates did not want their apparent dislike for their bosses to become public, however Facebook’s default setting has meant that it is freely available. The goal of Openbook is to force users to rethink their habits on Facebook and to protect what is visible to the public.
This site has clearly ruffled some features. In just a week it has received almost 3 million hits.
Having seen the dangers of having an unprotected network, it is useful to determine where exactly the holes are. This is where the open source scanning tool from ReclaimPrivacy comes in.
ReclaimPrivacy provides a “bookmarklet” that looks at your privacy settings and determines whether your profile is secure.
Note: The site’s author claims that they “never see your Facebook data” and that they “never share your personal information”. However, using this tool is at your own risk and Make Tech Easier disclaims all liability for any injury or damage caused by this third-party application.
To use the tool do the following (from the website):
- Drag this link to your web browser bookmarks bar: Scan for Privacy
- Go to your Facebook privacy settings and then click that bookmark once you are on Facebook.
- You will see a series of privacy scans that inspect your privacy settings and warn you about settings that might be unexpectedly public.
The scan revealed that all my information, including the controversial “Insant Personalization” feature, were “secure”. However, it did “caution” me as I have made some of my contact information completely public. The great thing about this tool is that it provides you with links to navigate the labyrinth of privacy settings and quickly make the required changes to secure your privacy as best you see fit.
This tool is slightly more complex as it requires you to grant the application certain permissions to your Facebook account.
If you are comfortable allowing the program to access your public information then click on “Allow”.
The application will crawl through all your data and provide you with a “privacy score”.
Interestingly, 15/21 is the best score anyone with a standard but locked down profile can achieve using this application. Privacy Check has the following guide for the scores:
- If your score box is green then you have scored 21/21 and all your information is hidden from websites and the public. Excellent.
- If your score box is yellow then you have locked down most of your information. Good stuff.
- If your score box is red then your are exposing lots of your private information and you should immediately review your Facebook privacy settings.
Further down a breakdown of what data is visible to the public is provided. There were a number of items in “red” for me, but Privacy Check explained that there was no way for me to hide this information as Facebook made it public by default. For example, the number of friends I had, my name, my Facebook ID, my timezone and my “likes” were all visible by default.
The final application SaveFace is similar to ReclaimPrivacy in that it requires you to use a “bookmarklet”, however instead of providing a breakdown of your settings and showing you what is secure it goes one step further by changing the settings for you. Being a thorough person I had actually gone through each and every privacy setting in Facebook and tweaked it to my desired level, but for those who want a quick fix this is ideal.
To use the tool do the following (from the website):
Step 1: Click and drag the bookmarklet SaveFace by Untangle to your toolbar.
Step 2: Go to your Facebook page – make sure you login to Facebook so you can see your own Facebook page.
Step 3: Click on the bookmark you made.
SaveFace will then reset your Privacy settings for you automatically.
Until Facebook finally releases it’s “simplistic” privacy settings it is up to us to remain vigilant and ensure that only the data we want to share is public.
Let us know in the comments how you go about protecting your information on Facebook.
Image credit: alancleaver_2000
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