Your Privacy and Facebook

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Facebook insists it is up to you to decide how much you want others to see. And that is true, to some extent. But you cannot entirely opt out of Facebook searches. Facebook, however, does let you fine-tune who can see your “likes” and pictures, and, to a lesser extent, how much of yourself to expose to marketers. The latest of its frequent changes to the site’s privacy settings was made in December. Since this change, it is more important than ever to lock down your Facebook privacy settings.

How would you like to be found?

Go to “who can see my stuff” on the upper right side of your Facebook page. Click on “see more settings.” By default, search engines can link to your timeline. You can turn that off if you wish. Also, go to “activity log.” Here you can review all your posts, pictures, “likes” and status updates. If you are concerned about who can see what, look at the original privacy setting of the original post.

The point is, you want to look carefully at what the original settings are for those photos and “likes,” and decide whether you would like to be associated with them.

If you are concerned about things that might embarrass or endanger you on Facebook — comb through your timeline and get rid of them. The only way to ensure that a post or photo is not discovered is to “unlike” or “delete” it.

What do you want the world to know about you?

Go to your profile page and click “About me.” Decide if you would like your gender, or the name of your spouse, to be visible on your timeline. Think about whether you want your birthday to be seen on your timeline. Your date of birth is an important piece of personal information for hackers to exploit.

A tool created a couple of weeks ago by a team of college students offers to look for certain words and phrases that could embarrass other college students as they apply for internships and jobs. It is called Simplewash, formerly Facewash, and it looks for profanity, references to drugs and other faux pas that you do not necessarily want, say, a law school admissions officer to see. Socioclean is another application that scours your Facebook posts. It is selling its service to college campuses to offer to students.

Do you mind being tracked by advertisers?

Facebook has a mechanism to show you ads based on the Web sites you have visited. It works with third-party companies to place cookies on my computer when, for instance, I visit an e-commerce site. That brand knows that I might be looking at girls’ dresses. It can ask Facebook to show me an ad for girls’ dresses when I log in to Facebook. You can control this. Hover over the “X” next to the ad and choose from the drop-down menu: “Hide this ad,” you could say. Or hide all ads from this brand. Facebook does not serve the ads itself, so to opt out of certain kinds of targeted ads, you must go to the third party that Facebook works with to show ads based on the Web sites you have browsed.

Whom do you want to befriend?

Now is the time to review whom you count among your Facebook friends. Do you really want certain people to see pictures of you in Las Vegas? Do you want the apps some of your Facebook friends have installed to know who you are?

Privacyfix.com, a browser extension, shows you how to keep your friends’ Facebook applications from sucking you into their orbit. It is preparing to introduce a tool to control what it calls your “exposure” to the Facebook search engine.

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