Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Getting around Facebook's latest assault on privacy

Note: If Facebook hasn't already sent you the pop-up message requiring you to link your personal information to Facebook pages, bookmark this Web page and come back to it when you need it.

Once again Facebook has made changes that will open up more of our information to marketers and, presumably, scammers and stalkers.

Potential privacy problems
Most of us include personal information on our Info page: for example, our favorite books, employment, schools, or current city. With FB's new approach - coming soon if it hasn't come already to your FB account - most of that personal information will be linked to FB pages. A pop-up message will give you a choice: you can link your info to a suggested FB page, or you can let FB delete the info altogether.

As Miguel Helft explained in an article in Sunday's New York Times, this "will allow Facebook to keep a record of what a user linked to, providing the company with ever more data about people’s preferences. Facebook, in turn, plans to share that data with Web publishers, so that a magazine Web site, for instance, may be able to show users all the articles that their friends like."

Perhaps there's no reason for concern: most of us FB users already link to pages, and marketers already know a scary amount about us. But there are potential problems that go beyond becoming the target of more and more marketers. Do I really want to connect with everybody else who claims an interest in, say, Yorkshire terriers or Madeleine Peyroux? Do I want my teenage grandchildren connecting with strangers who claim to share their love of Glee or Girl Scouts?

And yet, do I want to settle for a plain, uninteresting Info page that tells my friends nothing at all about me?

Protect personal information
If you don't like the new FB set-up, here's a three-step way to protect your privacy while still telling your friends that you adore stuffed bears, the Chicago Cubs, and the state of California.

1. Keep anonymous FB users away from your personal information. (Do this even if you passionately love the new set-up, by the way.) Click "Account" (upper right-hand corner), and then click "Privacy Settings" (on drop-down list). Click "Personal Information and Posts," and then click "Preview My Profile..." (right side of bar at top of page). What you see is what any FB member - friend, stranger, marketer, or pedophile - can see about you. If you've told the world too much, immediately click "Back to Privacy Settings" and then open up each page and work through all the options. You'll want to allow "Everyone" to see some of your info, but most of it should be available to "Only Friends."

2. Get rid of all or most of your current FB pages and refuse to add more. This is the best way to avoid giving information to marketers, who apparently have access to your FB page info even if you hide it from FB non-friends. Thanks to Joel, who pointed out (see comments below) an easy way to do this: Click "Account" (upper right-hand corner), and then click "Edit Friends." Scroll down the left-hand column and click "Pages." Click the X after any page you want to remove. (Alternately, you can use the more complicated method I originally suggested: go to each page separately, scroll way to the bottom, and click "Unlike" in the left-hand column.) The downside to deleting pages is that your Info page will no longer list your interests. But there's a work-around ...

3. Put a paragraph describing your interests on your Info page. Do this by clicking "Profile," then "Info," then "Edit" (in the "About Me" section). Scroll down the form to "Bio" and write whatever you want people to know about you. You can list your interests there without linking to any pages.

Here's what I wrote in my Bio paragraph, which I allow Everyone to see:
I read, review, blog, consult, and cook. I spend as much time as possible with friends, family, and dogs. I once listed some specific interests (Alexander McCall Smith, Harry Potter, the English language, la langue fran├žaise, ginger ice cream, etc.) in the "Likes and Interests" section on this page, but I don't like FB's current insistence on linking every interest to a FB page. I like to be connected to friends, but I see no reason to increase my connection to marketers and scammers.
You can read more about the latest Facebook changes at PCMag  or PCWorld. For a positive spin on what's happening at Facebook, read today's CNN account of an address by Facebook's CEO, who "hopes to turn the web into one big cocktail party."


Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

Thanks for putting this article together. I've ranted about FB and privacy enough; today I simply linked my post to your blog. :)

As a person with a family and private life (and using the *old FB lingo), my instincts and your wisdom tell me to UNFAN (now UNLIKE) everyone. However, as an author with my own page (publishers "highly recommend"--feel arm twist--you have one), it's difficult to tell everyone that for the sake of their own privacy, they should UNLIKE ME! (Whaaaa!)

In today's PR and marketing lingo, it's all about building our TRIBE. Now, with changes like this, in order to protect the people in our tribe, we basically must instruct them to abandon us.

Go figure ...

I'll be curious to see what others have to say about this friction.

Joel Scandrett said...

Re. your #2: a much easier way to do this is select "Edit Friends" on the "Account" pull-down menu. FB lists your pages amidst your actual friends and it's actually quite simple to scroll through and remove pages that way.

LaVonne Neff said...

Thanks Joel! I've incorporated your advice in the article.