I’m personally on the paranoid side of online privacy issues, so with the new Facebook features here I wanted to share some tips to securing your Facebook privacy. I’ll also give a run-down of what a third-party site or app can actually get from you.
Platform: How Websites “Know” About You
If a website is telling you things about your friends, they are using Facebook Platform to do it. Look at our sidebar’s Facebook block and you might see some familiar faces – faces from your friends list, specifically. What’s the deal?
We don’t actually get any of this information. What you’re seeing is an iframe, essentially a little window that opens Facebook’s website. If you’re logged in (and have Platform enabled), Facebook displays some of your information in this iframe. The info isn’t on our site, or passing through our servers, or any of that stuff. It’s exactly as if you opened Facebook in another tab or window; it just happens to be anchored to our sidebar.
There are ways to take it further, such as showing links your friends like or share, but it’s all the same. The information stays on Facebook, and the third-party site sets up an iframe to display Facebook with some particular parameters.
How to Disable It
Go to your Privacy Settings. At the bottom left is a section called “Applications and Websites.” Click the “Edit Your Settings” link. The very first item in that menu is labeled “Applications You Use.” In the descriptive text there’s a link to “Turn off” platform applications. Click it. You’ll get a pop-up asking if you’re sure (you probably are).
Now go to a website that uses Platform (like ours). In the Facebook block of our sidebar you should get a small gray box suggesting you enable Platform, instead of your private information.
Applications and Websites
Here’s the sneaky stuff. Applications are all those interactive Facebook elements, from games to quizzes. Whenever you participate, it asks permission to access some of your profile’s information. Most of it is harmless, but honestly the dangerous stuff is more likely to pretend to be a dumb quiz anyway. This is why I said I’m paranoid.
There’s only one defense, which is to deny access to everything. That means clearing out all the quizzes, games, calendars, and whatever else you use or have used on Facebook. If you don’t want to do that, it’s probably best to stop here and just enjoy the little gray box replacing all those Platform elements.
How to Disable It
In the same place in your Privacy Settings (Applications and Websites) there’s an Edit Settings button beside Applications You Use. Click it, and you’ll get a list of everything you’ve ever used. Remove anything you do not totally and completely trust (which for me is everything). It takes some time, but as long as you never take another quiz again you only have to do it once.
Prevent Other People From Sharing Your Information
Here’s where things get tricky. You disabled all this stuff on your profile, preventing other sites from gleaning information about your friends. The trouble is, your friends probably haven’t done the same, which still leaves you open.
The big privacy concern isn’t that sites will steal your information from you, but that they’ll get it from your friends.
How to Disable It
Get back to the Privacy Settings area. The big table front and center is the target. Just below that table (above those three items at the bottom) there’s a little link called “Customize Settings” with a pencil icon beside it. Click it and go to town.
How you customize it is up to you. For instance, my profile is partly marketing for my web design business, so I keep my contact information public. However, I restrict a great deal of what can be shared about me by friends.
Bonus: How To Hide FarmVille (And Other Stuff Your Friends Do)
This one’s easy. Find a news feed update about a game or app one of your friends is using, and hover your mouse over it. A little ‘X’ will appear in the top-right corner of the update. Click it and you’ll get options like “Hide [Friend]” and “Hide [App].” That last one is the magic button. Click it and you will never see automated posts from that app again, from any of your friends.
And yes, “Hide [Friend]” blocks all messages from that friend from appearing in your feed, without blocking them from sending you private messages, writing on your Wall, or finding out that you don’t actually want to see their status updates. You can do it to Pages, too, but at that point you should probably just Unlike it (bottom of the left-hand column when viewing the Page).