Facebook has received a lot of negative attention recently because of its worryingly lax approach to user privacy. Users have become concerned that their private information is being publicly shared, changed or removed without their knowledge and permission. Just this week, breast cancer survivor, Anna Antell, had photographs that she had posted on her Facebook account removed without any warning.
So, what can you do to keep your information safe? Here are five top tips on Facebook privacy.

1. Know what information is public
There are some pieces of information that you can never hide on Facebook. These include your name, profile picture, location and even your connections and hobbies. If you are uncomfortable with this information being displayed, delete or edit the content on your profile.

2. Be aware that Facebook controls your data
Anna Antell, a breast cancer survivor and artist, found this one out the hard way. Without informing her, Facebook removed photographs of her displaying post-operative scars because they were deemed “offensive”. Ultimately, Facebook is the final arbiter on what information you may or may not post – according to its own standard of what constitutes indecency.

3. Know what “everyone” means
The Facebook setting for sharing your information with “everyone” really does cover everyone in the world – or, at least, anybody who searches for you on Google, regardless of whether they have a Facebook profile themselves. To keep your information out of the public eye, make sure you only share it with friends and friends of friends.

4. Deactivation doesn’t remove your account

If you want to remove your profile from Facebook all together, you cannot simply deactivate it. Deactivating is really only the equivalent of logging out – all of your information is stored in case you want to reactivate your profile. To truly remove yourself from Facebook, you have to follow the complex and obscure two-week deletion procedure.

5. Friends can share your data without knowing it

Facebook’s recent introduction of the web-wide “Like” button raises some serious privacy concerns, because a friend who “likes” content on a Facebook-affiliated site automatically shares your public information with that site. This means that your profile information may appear there, even if you have never visited the page. To prevent this, you have to block each of the affiliated sites from sharing your info individually.

Anna Malczyk is the content developer for the University of Cape Town Internet Super-User course, which starts on 11 April 2011. For more information contact Karin on 021 685 4775 or Karin@getsmarter.co.za, or visit www.getsmarter.co.za

Have you ever had problems with your privacy settings on facebook?