How to simplify your privacy on Facebook (and everywhere else on the web)

Cynthia CloskeyGeneral

How to navigate Facebook Privacy Settings, from the New York Times

How to navigate Facebook Privacy Settings, from the New York Times

Yesterday the New York Times made a noble attempt to map Facebook’s new, super-complicated privacy settings, via a few well-designed graphics and an accompanying article (“The Price of Facebook Privacy? Start Clicking,” by Nick Bilton, 5/12/2010).

The new opt-out settings certainly are complex. Facebook users who hope to make their personal information private should be prepared to spend a lot of time pressing a lot of buttons. To opt out of full disclosure of most information, it is necessary to click through more than 50 privacy buttons, which then require choosing among a total of more than 170 options.

Users must decide if they want only friends, friends of friends, everyone on Facebook, or a customized list of people to see things like their birthdays or their most recent photos. To keep information as private as possible, users must select “only friends” or “only me” from the pull-down options for all the choices in the privacy settings, and must uncheck boxes that say information will be shared across the Web.

If you have a Facebook account, it’s worth taking a few minutes to understand what information is being shared with other members of the site, whether they’re your friends or the general public.

But the most important rule about privacy online still stands: If you have information that you want to keep private, do not put it online.

This applies to explicit information like data, photos, and video, and also to implicit data like your connections — who you know or have worked for, for example. It applies to your thoughts and opinions, including likes and dislikes.

Keep in mind that sending an email is a means of putting information online. Once it’s sent, you have no control over where it ends up.