Most of us think of social media like we do broadcast media – what we put on our screen is what people see on their screen, and vice versa.
But this is actually rarely ever the case.
This is particularly true in Facebook, a platform that is continually messing with what we see and experience – user preferences be damned.
The reality is that no matter how carefully you set up and maintain your Facebook account, you can still run into situations where it may be showing the world information about you that you didn’t intend to share.
Since you can’t see how other people see you, it’s difficult to know when Facebook is catching you with your privacy pants down. But, looking for these three commons culprits is a good place to start…
1. The frictionless data barf.
Anytime you click on a link and it takes you to a screen that says, “Do you want to give Facebook access to [fill in the blank app]?” you are creating a situation where information about that you do and see while using that app might be feeding directly into your Facebook newsfeed.
Facebook calls this “frictionless sharing.” I call it, “vaguely deceptive account hijacking” – mostly because I continually run into people who have no idea that they just unknowingly stuck a digital tracer on themselves and are letting their audience tag along for their social travels. For example,
- The woman in my network who was reading an article on Yahoo news about “Five Reasons Why He’s not Satisfying You Sexually.” (Um…TMI, anyone?)
- A colleague who noticed one of her work contacts watching some Asian soft core action on Socialcam (see screen grab), in addition to another who was watching “Sexiest Yoga Videos” at 3:00 a.m.
- My Facebook friend whose Pinterest account was hijacked by porn, which started feeding graphic photos into the Facebook feeds of her friends (not the feed of the person hijacked, mind you…only her friends. She had no idea it was occurring).
Anytime you choose to give an app access to your Facebook account or use Facebook Connect to log in to a site, you are compromising the privacy of your network and the information it contains. While, in many cases, the compromise will be benign, it does mean that, at a minimum, you are granting a third party access to data about you and your online behavior, for which it will pay Facebook handsomely.
Updates from third party apps have been drastically (and thankfully) reduced in the feed lately, as Facebook is shifting to give more prominence to “trending articles.” However, this shift is a test, and there’s no telling when/if third party apps will start showing up again. Also, as you can see from the screen grab, reading “trending articles” may make you look bad in front of your network too.
Better to be safe than sorry and think twice about granting access to third parties entirely.
2. Your likes and comments.
Yes, most of us are (hopefully) hip to the fact that everything we do, say, and like on Facebook is showing up in the ticker in the upper right hand corner of our newsfeed and in the “activity” feed on our Timeline.
What you may not know, however, is that the posts you interact with on Facebook can also show up in the main newsfeeds of your friends.
So, let’s say for instance that I choose not to publicly discuss my stance on abortion with my Facebook network and refrain from posting any news or thoughts about that topic. This attempt at creating a privacy bubble around that subject may be for naught, because when I “like” a status update from Planned Parenthood or comment on a post from an anti-abortion group, that information can be shared with my network just as publicly.
For example, I recently read all about the friend of someone in my network who had just gotten out of the hospital. I was able to read this “friend of a friend’s” status update, as well as every single comment in the conversation thread – all by people I don’t know – simply because my friend had “liked” her post.
It’s almost like Facebook has knighted each one of us as super-spies that can infiltrate the lives of our respective friends and relay that information back to total strangers. And, that’s kinda gross, isn’t it?
3. A conversational back door.
My company spends a lot of time teaching clients how to lock down their privacy features in Facebook. But, in some cases, those attempts to decease access or to meticulously create barriers between different audiences can be easily sidestepped.
That’s because, if, in the course of your day-to-day use, you interact with people in your network who do not have their privacy settings locked down (and, most don’t), the conversation you are engaging in with them on their feeds will default to their level of openness, not yours.
Similarly, if you click “share” on a piece of information in your feed (instead of posting it natively) that too can default to public sharing (even if the settings for the content you share native in Facebook is supposed to be private). The conversations you have with people about that shared piece of content will be public as well.
Basically, there are privacy back doors up the ying yang within Facebook. And they move and change constantly. Your best bet is to get in the habit of assuming that every conversation you engage in (save for private messages or threads in private Facebook Groups) may be potentially viewable by others.
Well…this is awkward.
So how do you control all these leaks of privacy and information sharing on Facebook?
While it’s always a wise move to revisit your Facebook privacy settings often, you need to accept that, when it comes to Facebook, SOMEONE can probably see anything you say to anyone at any time.
As wacky of a policy as it is, Mark Zuckerberg and Co. believe that everyone should interact online as their authentic self – no separation of business and personal, family and career, past and present.
These are the rules in Facebook-land. You can try to work around them, but just know that this will always be where the platform defaults.
Yes, Facebook may take a step back now and then to grant you more control over the porousness of your network and the sharing of your information. And, because of their recent settlement with the FTC, they are now subject to privacy audits and will likely be more cautious with your information as a whole. But for every one of these steps they will take backward on the issue of privacy, they will take two steps forward.
In the end, if you want to play in Zuck’s playground, you will play by his rules. And unfortunately, those rules change on a weekly basis. The best way to protect yourself is to understand that you may not be able to always protect yourself.