(10/12/2009) This post is now out of date. Facebook rolled out new privacy settings on the 9th December 2009. Stay tuned for an updated post; this will be linked to shortly.
A question arose in one of my seminars yesterday, asking whether universities spy on students through Facebook.
Yes, they do in many cases. But then the discussion evolved into another topic and this got me thinking. I get emails all the time asking about Facebook privacy settings and those who are worried about certain things being discovered, and the employment problems for future reference.
With the multitude of settings, and more often than not rather confusing and somewhat contradictory, how do you effectively lock down your photos, notes, profile and information, to not only certain people but everyone else outside your close-knit networks?
There are articles already on how to lock down your Facebook through the in-built settings, and this one is particularly good. However there are tricks and subtleties I'll mention here which you may not have considered before.
Feel free to leave verbal heckles, but in the meantime - are you sitting comfortably? Shall we move on?
Minimising the chance of your lecturers snooping on you
When you join an academic network on Facebook, you verify your standing at that institution by confirming your academic email address. But because universities and colleges often use two different identity systems for staff and students, Facebook can tell who is staff and who isn't.
Most of the time, a staff email address will be in the form of initials or full names, whereas students' will be initials and an incremental number added to the end, Z.A.Whittaker vs. zaw2, for example.
But in some institutions, staff have complimentary student email addresses which entwine with their network username and password, along with their staff email. This address used through Facebook's network validation can confirm themselves as a student rather than staff - allowing them to potentially see your profile.
This has its consequences for them though. What they can see, you can probably see. So unless they want you to see them engaged in some depraved, drug-fuelled sexy orgy with a number of their postgraduate researchers, printed and posted on every lamp-post on campus, they would be wise to avoid this.
Still, setting yourself as a non-member of staff on Facebook adds that extra level of protection between you and the university. Or failing that, systematically search through all of the names you deal with during your lectures, seminars and tutorials and block them one by one. This doesn't avoid other members of university staff prying though.
Frapes: how to avoid an attack
Frape, according to the internationally renown Urban Dictionary, is:
"The act of raping someones Facebook profile when they leave it logged in. Profile pictures, sexuality and interests are commonly changed. However fraping can include the poking or messaging of strangers from someone else's Facebook account."
The temptation to do so is unbelievable, like touching a railing even though it was a "wet paint" sign attached. While these acts can be incredibly funny and due to the now-instant response times from your friends, it is important to remember that whatever you put on the Internet can never be taken down.
So if you leave your laptop on while you go and make dinner, lock your computer. If you are using a friend's computer, always log out afterwards, and never, ever save your password by accident. Because even I, a professional in a very public sphere and upstanding citizen, could not resist the temptation to take advantage of an unmanned Facebook.
Facebook on your iPhone? Set a password!
As with the page before, your phone could leave you vulnerable to a Facebook hack attack. With Facebook for Nokia devices, iPhone's and BlackBerry's, many of us now have our social network on the go with us wherever we are.
If you leave your phone on the table in the pub while you nip for a pee, not only is there a massive temptation for the other pub-goers to text your rather attractive sister, but if your Facebook is on screen, that is a far higher prize.
Lock your phone with a password when you nip out for a smoke or a pee, or just take it with you.
Take advantage of privacy settings in bulk with friends lists
Say for some reason, like me, you realised that a good proportion of your friends were idiots and you only had a couple more months of being around them. Instead of blocking them on Facebook and being faced with two months of awkwardness, you can set them all into a list allowing you to limit exactly what they see - that is, before you block them and get them out of your life for good.
Or, in a similar fashion, not wanting to cause any awkwardness through not accepting a friends request, you can set an entire group of people to a limited view of your information. This works for colleagues you don't trust or even your boss of which you don't want them to see certain things.
Through your Friends section on your Facebook top-bar, create a new list and simply add those particular people to that list. Now going through your privacy settings of what people can see and what they can't, instead of adding individual names, you can select that entire list.
Instead of having to keep going back to those settings and adding names a hundred times, simply add that "friend" to the limited list. It keeps it sweet and simple.
Image security with Facebook adverts in your network
Facebook doesn't really have the best privacy policies in place when it comes to using your information, photos and other bits and bobs you put up on your profile.
Adverts as you can see in the image above, take information from your profile and fit them automatically into an advert to try and entice you. If you are single, it will display single ads (and sometimes even if you're married, it'll use your photo in your friends' adverts), and take geographic data about you and transform them into even more advertisements.
After you log in, head over to the Facebook Ads page and ensure that "No one" can see adverts which use your information, and "No one" can see the actions you perform on adverts, such as like, dislike or becoming a fan of something.
Interconnecting services and selective sharing
Whenever I updated Twitter, it automatically updated my Facebook status. Not only did I get more and more into Twitter than before when I hated it, it drove my Facebook friends nuts with the constant stream of pointless drivel.
Now I use the selective Twitter application which allows me to regulate what goes onto Facebook and what doesn't, by adding #fb at the end of my tweet.
But with this, be careful what you write, because some Facebook friends will not be on Twitter and you can get away with saying certain things. Once it automatically goes over (if you don't use the selective Twitter application) then you can get into hot water with your friends.
Twitter is very public, whereas Facebook is more private. Even though in Facebook you can be offensive and get away with it, you wouldn't want to write something incredibly right-wing on your Twitter and have your entire left-wing friendship group find out, resulting in them throwing organic beans at you but were far too weak to.