Have your Facebook - and your privacy, too

Have your Facebook - and your privacy, too

The Web has been abuzz for weeks with talk of online privacy. As you may have heard Facebook's in the process of updating its privacy policy terms, the user-facing handbook that lets us know what the social network can and can't do with member content.

This news - and in particular the delay caused by privacy group and consumer backlash - has led to an onslaught of Internet commentary. At Salon.com columnist and mother Amy Webb describes her vow never to post a photo of her daughter online. "Those who know us well understand and respect our 'no posts about the kid' rule," Webb writes. "When we think she’s mature enough...she’ll have the opportunity to start cashing in parts of her digital identity, and we’ll ensure that she’s making informed decisions about what’s appropriate to reveal about herself, and to whom."

Right around the time that Facebook went public with its proposed policy changes, USA Today ran a story on the ways in which consumers might be misusing the world's largest social network. Of the three mistakes author and radio host Kim Komando said many users are making, two are related to privacy. "Smartphones and some newer standalone cameras can embed GPS information into photos," Komando says. "Anyone who knows how to read this can see where your photos were taken. That means they can find your house, kids' school or other important locations."

Using social media has always been a trade-off: connectedness, content accessibility, and entertainment in exchange for some degree of public exposure. How much or how little you're willing to let it into your life is a deeply personal thing. One Facebook user may err on the side of caution and never include a location with her photos and posts. A family member who's also online, and also taking photos of that user's kids, might not be so judicious.

There are ways to keep social site privacy in check, and so it behooves all of us who'd like to retain some of ours to be aware, discerning, and informed. Here are a few ways to do it.

Don't set your Facebook posts to Public. Public posts (you'll find the drop-down menu listing Public, Friends, and Only Me options below your Status window) can be seen by everyone, on Facebook, on search engines, and beyond. If you don't see a sharing icon next to a post - such as when you're commenting on a news story - that means it's automatically set to be public and you won't be able to change it. Keep this in mind as you're navigating the network, especially when referencing personal information or family and friends.

Never post a digital photo that you wouldn't show to someone in print. Would you approach a random stranger on the street with a Polaroid of your toddler? Posting pics to social sites without leveraging privacy controls isn't much different. Use the visual of a stranger perusing your family photographs as a barometer for determining where your comfort level lies. Don't let the free flow and viral nature of digital photos cloud your ability to make the right choice.

Learn about social media online. Visit sites like All Things DigitalSocial Media Today and the Bits blog from The New York Times to stay abreast of social networking news. Keep tabs on social sites' own blogs, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It's the fastest way to find out what's new in everything from facial recognition technology to merging user data with ads.

Read Untangling the Web. This book by author Aleks Krotoski takes a closer look at the role the Internet and social media play in our lives, and specifically addresses online privacy. BoingBoing wrote a great review that will give you a sneak peek.

Every time social sites like Facebook and Instagram revise their privacy policies, countless consumers give up on them for good. We have more control over our social media experience than we're giving ourselves credit for.


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