Facebook is embroiled in an ongoing row over privacy. Here, we talk you through some of the key things you need to do to manage your Facebook account
By: Claudine Beaumont
The changes have caused something of a backlash among both the user community and the technology industry, with some commentators questioning whether these changes are the thin end of the edge, and may even result in users leaving the social-networking site in their droves.
Committing “Facebook suicide”, as it’s known, is a very drastic option. Facebook, to its credit, does allow users to have complete control over their profiles and the way their personal information is shared – but you do need to plough through 50 different settings and around 170 different options if you want to control every single aspect of your account. Here, we look at how to deactivate and delete your Facebook account – and the difference between the two – as well as how to lockdown some of the most important privacy settings on your profile:
Deactivating your Facebook account
Deactivating your account simply involves going on a temporary hiatus; it does not permanently delete your personal information. If you deactivate your account, you immediately become invisible to other Facebook users, who will no longer be able to access your profile. However, Facebook “saves” your profile on file, so that if you choose to reactivate your account in future, then all of your friends, photos, lists of interests, games and other preferences, are automatically restored so your account looks just as it did before you deactivated it.
Deactivating an account is fairly simple: when you’re logged in to Facebook, click on the Account tab on the top right-hand side of the page. From the drop-down list, select “Account Settings”. The final option on the page is “Deactivate” – click on the link to be taken through to the deactivation page. Facebook tries to tempt you in to reconsidering, telling you that your friends “will no longer be able to keep in touch with you”; it also asks you to say why you are deactivating your account. At the foot of the page is box that allows you to opt out of receiving future emails from Facebook – if you do not tick this box, then you will continue to receive email notifications every time a former Facebook friend tags you in a photo, invites you to an event, or asks you to join a group. Ticking the box means you will no longer receive these messages.
To reactivate your Facebook account, log in to the site using your usual email address and password. You will then be sent an email to that address containing a link which, when clicked, restores your Facebook profile in its entirety.
Permanently deleting your Facebook account
If you’ve reached the end of your tether with being poked, bitten by vampires, asked to take endless quizzes or are simply concerned about privacy issues, then completely deleting your Facebook account is the nuclear option. When you delete your account, Facebook promises to discard all “personally identifiable information” associated with that account from its databases – that’s things like names, email addresses, phone numbers, postal addresses, instant-messenger screen names etc etc. However, Facebook says that copies of some material, such as photos, may remain on its servers for “technical reasons”, but that the material is “completely inaccessible” to other Facebook users, and is completely disassociated from any information that makes it possible to link that piece of content back to an individual user. If you deactivate or delete your account, says Facebook, it will no longer use any content associated with it, either.
Committing Facebook suicide, though, takes a little effort – it’s not quite as simple as clicking a few buttons to exorcise your social networking presence. Instead, you need to send a message to Facebook, requesting the permanent deletion of your account. Log on to Facebook, then paste the following address in to your browser window: http://www.facebook.com/help/?faq=12271. It will take you through to a Help page that describes the difference between deactivating and deleting an account. At the bottom of the second paragraph is a link, which takes you through to a page where you submit your deletion request. Click on the link, read the warning entitled “Delete my account”, and then click Submit. The account is deleted immediately, but it can take up to a fortnight for Facebook to clear your information from its cache.
Adjusting your privacy settings
Facebook has a difficult job: on the one hand, the reason the social network works so well is because of the easy sharing of information between users; on the other hand, people are growing increasingly wary of sharing too much, or sharing it with the wrong people, and are suspicious of Facebook’s desire to share some of this data with selected third-party companies, such as Microsoft and Yelp.
Facebook says its extensive privacy settings allow users to have granular control over what information they share and who they share it with. So, which settings should you prioritise as soon as you set up your Facebook account, to ensure you’re not sharing personal information, private comments and photos with the wider user community? Here are what we think are the five most important settings to check and set:
:: Configure your friend lists
This is a time-consuming process, particularly if you are insanely popular, with hundreds of “friends”, but will make every aspect of controlling your privacy that much easier. Friend lists allow you to group your contacts in to groups, so that you’re only sharing certain information with certain people. For example, you might create four lists: “Close friends”, “Acquaintances”, “Family”, and “Work”.
“Close friends” is the group you will happily share your most personal information, photos and Wall posts with; you’d probably prefer the “Work” group of friends to see a somewhat sanitised and censored version of your Facebook profile. By setting up these lists, you can ensure that no one gets to see something you’d rather keep private. You can add the same person to more than one list, but it’s worth spending time on getting this aspect of your Facebook settings right.
* To create and edit friend lists, log on to Facebook and select “Friends” from the list under your profile picture on the left-hand side of the page;
* On the next page, click the “Create a List” button;
* Enter a title for your list, and hit Enter;
* Add friends to the list by typing their names in the “Add to List” field, or selecting them from the list;
* Click “Create List” to save these changes, and generate your new group of friends.
* To control what information each group of friends can see, click on Account, choose “Privacy Settings”, select “Profile Information”, and then work your way through each option, selecting the group of people you’re happy to share information with from the drop-down lists.
:: Opt out of searches
If you don’t want your Facebook profile to appear online, either when it’s searched for on Google or through Facebook itself, you can turn this function off. Click on Account, select “Privacy Settings”, and click on “Search”. If you only want friends to be able to search for your Facebook profile, select “Only friends” from the drop-down list. Under the heading “Public Search Results”, uncheck the box marked “Allow” to ensure your profile cannot be searched for on sites such as Google.
:: Protect your photos and videos
We’ve all heard the horror stories about people who have been fired, or dumped, after an embarrassing photo or video came to light on Facebook. You can avoid this problem by restricting who can view photos stored on your profile, and even who can view photos in which you’ve been tagged – even if that picture appears on someone else’s profile page. To manage this, click on the Account tab, choose “Privacy Settings”, then “Profile Information”. Navigate to “Photos and videos of me” – select “Only Me” from the drop-down list if you don’t want anybody, apart from yourself, to see pictures and videos you’ve been tagged in; even if you’re less concerned about incriminating material, it’s wise to restrict this content to certain groups, such as the “Close friends” group you created earlier. You can also restrict access to every photo album associated with your profile: below “Photos and videos of me” is “Photo albums”; click on this to choose exactly which groups of contacts can view which sets of pictures.
:: Control what personal information you share with applications and partner websites
You can install lots of fun games and applications on your Facebook profile, but many of these will request access to certain elements of your personal information. You can control what information these apps are able to access by adjusting your privacy settings. Choose “Privacy Settings” from the Account menu; click on the link labelled “Applications and websites”, then “What you share”, and adjust the permissions for each application accordingly.
The “Applications and websites” section is also the place to control what information your friends can share about you when they are using certain applications and programs (yes, that’s right – your friends could be sharing your information with third-party websites without your explicit consent) – make sure you go in and uncheck every box if you want complete control over how your personal information is divulged. You can also opt-out of the controversial “Instant Personalisation” scheme through the “Applications and websites” page – this scheme is designed to help you “connect more easily with your friends on select partner websites”, such as Yelp and Pandora, and is switched on by default. You need to uncheck the box at the foot of that page to opt out of the service.
:: Make your contact information private
Security experts warn that people’s propensity to publish their full dates of birth, postal addresses and other contact details on Facebook – and then leave their profile’s open to the public – makes it easier for cyber criminals to commit identity fraud. You must ensure that only your trusted friends are able to see this information. To lock down your contact information, click the Account button and select “Privacy Settings” from the drop-down menu. Click on “Contact Information” and then adjust each category by selecting the group of people you are willing to share that information with from the drop-down lists.