How to use Facebook without Losing Your Job over it
I’ve followed my friends as they jump around from social network to social network, creating profiles on Friendster, Hi-5, Orkut, MySpace and now Facebook, even though I never use the sites.
Facebook is great networking tool that lets you keep in contact with former friends from high school, university and various jobs. It easily connects people together with tools like registering that you are the owner of a specific cell phone number, keeping track of every email address you’ve ever had, and logging into your email account to find out who you know.
As you can guess from my previous series on online pseudo-anonymity, something that collects as much personal information as Facebook scares the bejebus out of me. From the address book import I can clearly see that everyone I’ve ever even remotely known is already on Facebook, and the default settings mean they’re all sharing all kinds of personal information they may not be aware of.
The potential downside a lot of my friends and acquaintances don’t realize is that Facebook is more like LinkedIn than MySpace and it is “on the radar” of your employers. People have already lost their jobs because of their Facebook activity. Most people don’t think about online privacy concerns like these unless they’ve had a bad experience because of being too free with information.
But Facebook can be used safely and with little impact on the rest of your life by following these tips.
(photo by mmarchin)
Understanding the Relationship Levels
Facebook sucks for not having enough control over how well you know someone. There are nine million ways to define how you know them, but only three levels for how well you know them. By default everyone is a stranger. A network is a group by region/location, school or company. Your friends are people who you’ve mutually agreed that you know each other.
You have the ability to change the privacy of things at the micro-level but it is tedious. Facebook has no global solution in place for “he’s my Friendster but not my friend” — handling acquaintances without giving them the same access as people who are close to you.
Changing The Default Privacy Settings
This should be an obvious tweak but most people ignore it. By default anyone in your networks can see everything you’re doing on Facebook. Click on the My Privacy link to start editing your information. One thing Facebook does very poorly is it always assumes you’re going to want to share all of your information with your global networks for cities, schools and businesses.
HACK: If you don’t join any networks then the default privacy settings aren’t that bad.
- Profile defaults to All my networks and all my friends when it should be Only my friends.
- Contact emails defaults to Only my friends when it should be No one.
- Profile Features default to All my networks and all my friends when it should be Only my friends, only me, or no one.
- This is where you can do things like turn off your wall, hide your online status and hide your groups.
- Search defaults to Everyone when it should be Only my friends. There is no explicit option to not appear in search results, but in testing when I unchecked all of the options I stopped appearing.
- By default people can see your picture, send you a message, poke you or add you as a friend from the search results.
- UPDATE 2007/09/05: Facebook search results now show up in Google search results. These privacy settings will prevent you from showing up.
News Feed and Mini-feed
This is the most worrisome display of private information on Facebook. Your newsfeed publishes information on everything you are doing on Facebook. I’d turn most if not all of these off. At the very least turn off the Show times in my Mini-feed option — no one needs to know you spent all morning tweaking your profile.
Poke, Message and Friend Request Settings
Whenever you poke, message or friend request someone they are able to see parts of your profile even though your privacy setting may normally prevent them. Change these to whatever you are comfortable with. They are only shown when you initiate contact with someone.
Privacy Settings for Friends, Notes, and Facebook Development Platform
- Friends list. By default Everyone can see your friends list. It should be Only my friends.
- Notes are like a mini-blog. By default Everyone can see your notes. It should be Only my friends.
Don’t forget other privacy settings that are hidden in your Edit Profile like displaying your birthday. That’s also where the email notification settings are tucked away.
Have a Professional and a Personal Profile
Facebook is a good professional networking tool. It is also a fun place to keep in contact with friends using public messages, photos and events. Things you wouldn’t want to show up on a professional profile. So have your cake and eat it too by having two profiles (even though this may be against the Facebook terms of service).
A professional/public profile
- Shows your full name, job history and schooling.
- Only add work-related email accounts / IM.
- Only add industry contacts as friends.
- Only join networks related to school and work.
- Only have one professional looking photo or do not include a photo.
- If “blasts from the past” try to find you this is where they’ll end up and you can add them as a contact without revealing lots of personal information to them.
A personal/private profile
- Shows first name/nickname, and last initial.
- Don’t join networks related to school or work.
- Don’t list your work experience.
- Don’t use your work email address.
- Do whatever you want with it.
Obviously, don’t link your personal and professional account as friends.
Since you have two Facebook accounts that are unrelated to each other you can switch accounts to test how much information is publicly available on the other account.
Friends Not Acquaintances
People use these social networks to connect to anyone they’ve ever remotely known, proudly trying to amass the largest friends list they possibly can. There are people I know that I only keep in touch with when we join a new social networking site.
One of the potential problems with Facebook is that the privacy settings only distinguish between strangers, networks and friends. Once you list an acquaintance as a friend they have the highest level of access to your personal information.
Don’t Use the “Find Your Friends” Feature
The “Find Your Friends” feature grabs a list of all of your email contacts and tries to find them on Facebook. This wouldn’t be a problem except that it uses your entire address book contact list.
Most email software automatically adds anyone you have exchanged emails with as a contact. That list could include ex’s, co-workers and any stranger who sent an email to the wrong address that you politely replied-to to inform them of their mistake.
Don’t Use Facebook at Work
Facebook has a feature called the mini-feed that lets other people see/stalk everything you’re doing on Facebook and logs the day and time. Your profile shows the last ten things you did, and it’s possible to view all activity you have ever done on Facebook and when you did it.
So people can see exactly how often you Facebook at work.
Facebook even makes it very convenient to sort this information to find photos OTHER people have uploaded to you and to track every bulletin board message you’ve ever posted. It’s a stalker’s wet dream.
You can remove/modify this feature by going to My Privacy >> News Feed and Mini-Feed Privacy. At the very least everyone should turn off the Show times in my Mini-feed option. If you’re going to Facebook at work, at least hide the fact.
Hide Your Groups
When using the create a group feature, by default anyone can join, anyone can see the group information, read the discussion board or see the photos. When creating a group set the group access to secret. Be aware that at any point an administrator can change a group from secret to public.
NOTE: If a group is public then you can hide things you’ve posted from showing up on your profile by using the My Privacy >> News Feed and Mini-Feed Privacy settings. You can’t however hide being a member of that group, or prevent someone from browsing the any of your messages in that group.
The problem with publicizing a lot of information about yourself is that you have no control over how it will be used. While it is unlikely that someone will use that information to apply for credit cards under your name, there is a chance of minor mischief like using the information to impersonate you on another site or for someone to pretend they know you as a fake reference during a job interview.
I have seen both of those happen.
If you read the Terms of Service with a fine-toothed comb, Facebook is allowed to sell/share your information with other companies without asking you for further permission. The Facebook Wikipedia page has more information about criticisms of Facebook’s privacy policies.
This guide was written before Facebook applications existed, but you can find out about how to configure the privacy settings for your Facebook apps here.
5 Things to Remember
- People are only friends, limited profile, network, strangers or blocked — those are the only different access levels
- Privacy settings are frickin complicated — set yourself to have no network to avoid most of the hassles
- Private messages are better than wall posts — wall posts can bite you in the ass later
- Turn off times and online status — no one needs to know when you’re Facebooking
- Adjust your news feed and mini-feed — if people can’t see when you write in groups, or comment on other people’s photos then it avoids a lot of the stalking opportunities
The problem with Facebook is that people use it without giving a second thought to how much information they are publishing and by default they are publishing more information than they may want to. Facebook is used for professional job searches and networking as well as pure socialization and problems can happen when the two meet.
- Why online anonymity should matter to you
- Online pseudo-anonymity tips
- Employees fired because of Facebook
- Facebook application privacy settings
- How to show your iPod playlist on Facebook