Most people believe Facebook is a secure storage locker…

A storage locker that contains your photos, life and status updates, what you like and how you interact with others – including those you may not really know on Facebook.

The fact of the matter is that all this information is available to a vast amount of people who can use this to gain insights into your personal life. Law enforcement, schools, employers, and even marketers to present you with “personalized” advertisements based on your interests, what you like (as in what status updates you like), what you don’t like, what you share, what you post and what you comment on. As yourself this: Where do you think Facebook gets their money?

Facebook is opening the door wider by introducing their new search feature, which allows virtually anyone to discover more about you – more than you think or more than you may be comfortable sharing with others.

It is your responsibility, not Facebook’s (contrary to all the status updates people post telling Facebook they are not allowed to share certain things) to control what and how much you want others to see. You cannot simply opt out entirely from showing up in Facebook searches but you can have more control over who sees your status updates, pictures and things that you “like” from people and places you may not be personally connected to. This control also allows you to determine how much exposure you offer to marketers.

The right solution is not to just abandon Facebook altogether, it is a valuable resource for friends, families and even businesses who want to stay connected. The right solution is to have a better understanding and stay on top of the changes they are making, learn more about what those changes are, how they affect or impact you and how you can further control your security and privacy.

There are four simple questions to ask yourself that will help you decide what privacy and security settings are right for you:

  • How would you like to be found?
  • What do you want EVERYONE to know about you?
  • Is it ok for marketers to track your Internet movements?
  • Who do you want as “friends” on Facebook?

Based on how you answer these questions, you can take more control of your privacy and security settings on Facebook.

Question: “How would you like to be found?

Look for the padlock icon to the right of “Home” on the upper right side of your page. Click on that icon and select the option “Who can see my stuff” and at the bottom of that list, click on “See more settings”. These options are the Privacy Settings for your posts, who can find you how and more importantly whether the Internet search engines can see things on your Timeline.

Here’s an example:

Say you see a picture that is controversial in nature about whatever and you “like” that picture. That becomes part of your timeline. With the option “Do you want other search engines to link to your timeline” enabled, ANYONE on the web doing a Google search for something relative to the controversial status you’ve “liked” or “shared” will reveal your Facebook timeline about that item. Pretty scary for most people, particularly those who believe they have some sort of built-in protection on Facebook (they do have the protection, it’s just not built in and it’s your job to control it).

While you are there, take a look to the left column and click on the “Timeline and Tagging” option. The settings are pretty self-explanatory. What’s not well explained is how all these tie together. If you are allowing all sorts of activity to take place on your timeline and you are allowing Internet search engines to see stuff on your timeline, get it?

Go back to the little padlock icon near the top right, click on that again, click on “Who can see my stuff” again and look for and click on “Use Activity Log”.

Take a look at your posts, pictures, videos, status updates, likes, etc. If there are any concerns about who can see these individual items, take a look at the original privacy setting of that individual post. For each item, there are two little icons on the right-hand side. Hovering your mouse over the first one will reveal who has the ability to see that particular post. Clicking on the second icon will allow you to control (including hiding from your timeline or deleting the post all together), that individual item.

Tedious – yes. Daunting – no doubt, but understanding how this all ties together, how to set your security and privacy settings and how you interact with things you see going forward will become more easily understood and straightforward (as well as providing a little more protection from the elements).

Question: What do you want EVERYONE to know about you?

This one is relatively easy. On your profile page, directly beneath your profile picture, click “About”. Here is where you can decide what information you want to make available to others.

Let’s tie this back to those advertisers we talked about a little earlier: If an advertiser is targeting Females, between a certain age range who’s birthday is in the coming month AND your “about” indicates you are female, and has your birthday (including your birthdate), this is how advertisers target you!

So, decide what you want the world to know about you.

Question: Is it ok for marketers to track your Internet movements?

Facebook’s reach goes way beyond it’s own site. Think about this, how many websites do you visit on a regular basis where you see that lovable blue icon? It’s everywhere and Facebook knows it.

Now there is a “feature” in place that shows you ads based on web sites you’ve visited! The age-old Internet cookies (little pieces of code that can track which websites you’ve visited. Third-party providers working with Facebook place these cookies on your computer. So when you are on a website looking at the latest in designer footwear or electronic gadgets, the next time you log into Facebook, you will miraculously see ads for shows and electronic gadgets, similar to what you were looking for on other websites.

Ick. But there’s hope. Check out tracker blockers such as Abine, DisconnectMe and Ghostery. These sites give you much more control over these cookies that are placed on your computer and sever the ties back to Facebook’s ads.

Question: Who do you want as “friends” on Facebook?

Put some thought into this. Do you want to be friends with your boss on Facebook? If you run a business, do you want to be friends with your clients or customers? Do you really want them to know all sorts of things about your personal life?

These steps are relatively easy to take and easy to understand. Where the difficulty lies is when people connected to people that are connected to you know more about you than you care to share.

Good news is there are a couple of new tools on the web that help with this.

Secure.me is like having anti-virus software for Facebook. It helps you keep your private information private, helps protect your reputation by preventing you from “oversharing”, looks at the apps you use and lets you know what personal data those apps can access and has a child safety feature to help you control your children’s social experience.

Privacyfix.com is similar in that it puts you in complete control if your online privacy.

Facebook does a great job of making you think all your Facebook contacts are really your friends but understand what that really is saying “Facebook friends are individuals who have mutually agreed to be connected on Facebook, allowing you to view information on their profile, follow each other’s conversations, post on each other’s walls, etc”. Do you really want all those “friends” to have that much access and control?

Social networking is not going away. It is getting bigger and has a much broader reach than ever before. Simply throwing in the towel on it is giving up on it. Rather than give up on it, learn more about what you can and cannot control and adjust your behaviors (and privacy settings) accordingly.