Using our bright and shiny Apple gear to navigate the web, it’s easy to think the Internet is all LOL Cats and sunshine, and that everyone who interacts with our social-networking profiles and other online presences really is our friend. Sadly, that’s not always the case. Depending on what you share online, where you share it, and how you control it, people who may not have your best interests at heart can find out an awful lot about your life--and potentially use that information against you.
While we obviously don’t want anybody to stalk anybody, training yourself to think like a creep, investigating how you appear on search engines, and scrutinizing your social-networking security for weaknesses can really help you reevaluate how much information you want to make available. But while there are many potential scenarios in which your data might fall into the wrong hands, there’s plenty you can do to minimize exposure to online bad guys without missing out on the best of what the web and social networking have to offer.
Make friends with your privacy settings
Your creepy ex is friends with some people you went to high school with. You don’t want to block or de-friend your actual pals, but you don’t want your ex to see your profile, either. How can you make sure that only people you trust have access to your information on Facebook?
Facebook’s privacy controls are pretty extensive, but like so many of the site’s settings, they’re hidden among pages of menus and text. Unfortunately, that means sometimes people don’t pay much attention to them, or aren’t vigilant about rechecking and reconfiguring them when the Facebook site is redesigned or the default privacy schemes are changed. And Facebook is famous for changing them.
The most important step you can take to minimize what the unfriendly exes of the world can see is to vastly pare down the amount and kind of info you add to Facebook. Think about what you absolutely need to share to have a presence online--is your home address really necessary?--and don’t offer more than you’d be willing to tell a stranger (or a potential employer, for that matter). Above all, ask yourself if the potential exposure of your personal information is worth what you’re getting out of belonging to Facebook, or any social network. If the answer is no, there’s no harm in dropping out of the site (don’t worry, you’ll still be a participant in the 21st century). But if the answer is yes, be sure to review the tips here before sharing your next status update.
Click Customize to exclude, say, your work friends from your out-partying photos.
To edit Facebook’s privacy settings, log in and choose Privacy Settings from the Account button in the top-right corner. Note the chart in the middle of the resulting Choose Your Privacy Settings page. It shows you at a glance your current privacy settings for your status, relationships, contact information, and other important details. You can edit them by choosing among Facebook’s global privacy settings, or you can fine-tune how these details--including photo albums--appear to the world individually by clicking Customize. You can even hide some details, like your religious and political views, from specific people or groups while sharing them with others.
Stick new friends in the appropriate groups as you add them, and they'll never know what they're missing on your profile.
If you have many friends whose scrutiny you want to manage, Friend Lists can simplify the job. With friends organized in groups like Close Friends, Family, and Colleagues, it’s much easier to use the Limited Profile feature to control who can see what on your profile across a wide group of people. Log in and click the Friends link in the sidebar of your Facebook Home page, then click the Create a List button at the top of your Friends page to get started. Once you’ve created a list or two, you can hide profile details from everyone in that group by entering the list’s name in Privacy Settings.
Block Application Invites will keep your pesky friend from constantly bugging you to join MafiaWars.
To block an ex or other iffy online characters, edit your Block Lists at the bottom of the Privacy Settings page; from there you can block other Facebook users by their names or email addresses. (You can also select Block This User from the bottom-left corner of any Facebook profile page.) Once blocked, a person can no longer interact with you on Facebook, except within games and applications you both use. All other Facebook social ties between blocker and blockee are broken, and both will be invisible to each other on the site. Of course, blocking people won’t prevent them from scoping you out under a new name or address, so be vigilant about whom you befriend in the future.
Be your own publicist, and control access to you.
To control what strangers--or people claiming to be strangers--can see when searching for you on Facebook or the web, return to the Privacy Settings page and edit your Basic Directory information. Want to ensure that only friends can find you, send you messages, or view your friends? It’s all here, and some directory information can be hidden from specific friends or Friend Lists. But there’s no way to be completely invisible on Facebook. Your name, profile picture, gender, and networks are always available to everyone, to help people legitimately interested in you to get in touch. If you’re uncomfortable making your likeness public, leave your profile picture blank or use a picture representative of a hobby instead of your face.
You can always delete your account if you decide Facebook’s privacy isn’t private enough, but it’s a much trickier process than we’d like. First, log in and follow the instructions here, then leave your Facebook account untouched for 14 days. Account activity during those two weeks (including logging into your account or using a Facebook plug-in on another website) could prompt you to reactivate your account, so be careful when using Facebook-enabled sites, and consider clearing your browser’s cache and deleting cookies to help avoid accidentally re-joining Facebook as you surf.
Thanks to widespread integration with other websites, it seems like the social-networking juggernaut is assimilating the entire Internet one Like button at a time. But resistance isn’t futile--here’s what three popular Facebook integration features mean for your privacy.
Facebook Connect lets you log into “connected” sites using your Facebook account, so you can juggle fewer passwords. This shares with the affiliated sites your name, profile picture, and any other information about you made publicly available in your account’s Privacy Settings. Still, because your privacy settings follow you to connected sites, blocked users won’t be able to see you on them, and Facebook information you’ve made private won’t be visible to the affiliated site or its visitors.
Like buttons, activity feeds, and similar interactive features are what Facebook calls “social plug-ins,” Facebook islands that float inside their host sites to let you share opinions about the site’s content, or the content itself, with friends. But because the plug-in is technically a part of Facebook, the hosting site receives no information about you or anything you Like, Recommend, or comment on while visiting it. Your activity is shared only on your Facebook profile, or to friends within the plug-in itself, depending on how you’re set to share things you like in Facebook’s Privacy Settings. Facebook does track some data about you when you visit a plug-in–enabled site, to determine who you are in relation to your friends. To avoid this, simply log out of Facebook before visiting the site.
Instant personalization is a service that offers content customized by your Facebook account--if you’re a frequent visitor to Yelp, Microsoft Docs, or Pandora, you may have already used it. Like Facebook Connect, Instant Personalization shares with partner sites the information you’ve already made public. For example, Pandora can automatically show you nearby concerts and stations recently played by your friends. To keep your love of Burt Bacharach tunes a secret, you can opt out of Instant Personalization in the Applications and Websites section of Facebook’s Privacy Settings.
Next Page: Censor Your Flickr...
Be choosy about what people see
You want to use Flickr to share pictures you’ve taken with an iPhone, but you don’t want to share the geotag data that could show your clingy former roommate where your new apartment is.
Everyone knows that posting photos of people (yourself included!) in compromising situations on photo sharing sites like Flickr is a bad idea, but even “harmless” everyday snapshots can be cause for privacy concerns. Thanks to GPS-enabled smartphones and cameras, our photographs can include geotag data showing where they were taken, and not all your friends may appreciate having their places--or faces--broadcast to the world in your photostream. Fortunately, Flickr lets you manage both your photo albums and who gets to see them so you can share your snaps without having to share too much.
Cover your tracks.
To allow only certain visitors to see EXIF (Exchangeable Image File) geotag data in your pictures, or to ensure that no one can, stay on that Privacy & Permissions page and, under “Defaults for new uploads,” click Edit next to “Import EXIF location data.” You’ll be asked to set permissions defining who can see where your pictures were taken much like those that control who’s allowed to view your pictures in the first place.
Batch-edit the permissions on all your photos at once.
Even if you change your privacy settings today, your past uploads may still be public. To fix that, click the Organize & Create tab, then click More Options at the bottom of the new page. In the resulting pull-down menu, you can choose to show photos according to their current privacy settings. Drag your public pictures into the workspace, then click the Permissions button in the workspace menu bar to change who can see, comment on, and tag them.
If these precautions aren’t enough to keep a roommate, ex, or snippy photography critic out of your photostream, you can always block other Flickr users by clicking the “Block this person?” link on their profile page, choosing “Block” from their icon menu, or by deleting a comment from the offending user. Blocking prevents another person from interacting with you or your photos, and past interactions like shared tags, notes, and photo galleries will be deleted.
To review and edit your Flickr account’s privacy controls, log in and click the You tab at the top of the page, then choose Your Account. Click the Privacy & Permissions tab to set rules about who can do what with your pictures. Flickr’s default settings may be fine for most people, but don’t be afraid to tailor permissions to suit your needs.
Click the linked question marks to learn more about the Privacy & Permissions settings.
For instance, the “Who will be able to see, comment on, add notes, or add people” option lets you make your pictures public, limit their exposure to only friends and family, or make them completely private with just a few clicks. You can similarly limit or disallow picture downloads with the Global Settings at the top of the page.
Next Page: Get Off the Net...
Manage what comes up in Google searches for your name
A quick search for your name on Google turns up way more personal data than you want any stranger to see. Maybe you had no idea that your Facebook profile, tweets, email addresses, and even pictures were available online. Even worse, what if it’s not you, but somebody with a similar name? How can you keep this information off the web and prevent similar exposure later?
Googling yourself to see how you appear to the internet is a smart step in managing online privacy. What you’re likely to find is that most of the information you’ve made public on sites like Facebook, Flickr, or Twitter can make its way into search engines. That leads to a smarter step, limiting the amount of personal data you share with the world on those sites. We can’t stress it enough: sharing information with everyone means anyone--friends, family, corporations, or frenemies--can access it one way or another. But if you must share, rein in your online presence with tips like these.
Check this box to tweet to approved contacts only.
First, the low-hanging fruit: make your social media profiles private. In Facebook’s Privacy Settings page, edit your Applications and Websites settings. Next, edit the Public Search setting and uncheck “Enable public search.” In the Global Settings of Flickr’s Privacy & Permissions page, hide both your “stuff” and your profile from public searches to make your pictures and yourself extra private. In the Account section of Twitter’s Settings page, click “Protect my tweets” to keep your tweets out of the public eye. To protect accounts on similar sites, search their help pages or contact customer support.
Google is here for you.
If fiddling with account settings doesn’t get everything you want removed from the Internet, or a site doesn’t give you the option of removing the offending info yourself, it can’t hurt to contact its webmasters and politely ask them to remove your content. Afterward, don’t forget to request that Google remove the page from its cache by logging in here and making a Removal Request with Google’s webmaster tools.
Now who would possibly know who "seniorita tahoedeo" is?
Think deviously when posting and signing up for websites and services. Use an anonymous alias and a “casual” email account for everyday or nonprofessional activities. Only use your real name and “official” email address--the one you’d include on a résumé--for professional purposes. If you must use your real name online, consider including your middle name or initial to differentiate your blog and messageboard posts from those by anyone with bad habits and a similar name you wouldn’t want friends or coworkers to confuse yours with.
Scrubbing yourself from Spokeo doesn't remove your info from wherever Spokeo found it, though.
You may be surprised to find information about yourself on sites like Spokeo, ZoomInfo, and ZabaSearch. These sites get information directly from users or indirectly from public information available online--yellow pages, real estate listings, social networks, and more--which may not present you accurately. Your address may be out of date, or it may be mixed up with that of someone else with a similar name. Contact each site to request removal. Spokeo’s is at spokeo.com/privacy; in general the privacy pages are the best place to start looking.
Next Page: Roam Safely with iOS 4...
How to use Location Services without sacrificing your privacy
You love iOS 4, but worry that its multitasking feature could let some apps broadcast your location to advertisers and other people without your knowing about it. Should you turn off your iPhone’s GPS to keep from being tracked wherever you go?
Thanks to multitasking, location-aware apps like Foursquare, Gowalla, and Yelp can monitor your location 24/7, even after you launch a new app. You might not have a stalker following your every move, but it may not be such a great idea to broadcast to potential robbers the times when you’re not at your apartment. Meanwhile, iOS 4’s iAds can anonymously report your browsing habits, responses to ads, and other information to advertisers (similar to what Google’s offered for years). If neither scenario sits well with you, here’s how to keep tabs on just how public your next stroll with an iOS 4 device will be.
If your iPhone is still running OS 3.1.3 or earlier, you can only turn off Location Services entirely, not per-app, as you can in iOS 4.
If you’d prefer to opt out of iAds’ anonymous data collection and let modern-day Don Drapers fend for themselves, launch Safari on your iOS 4 device and navigate to http://oo.apple.com. Your device will instantly be removed from iAds’ targeted-advertising plan, but you’ll have to repeat the process on all your iGizmos to prevent each of them from sharing your information. When you’re done, you’ll still see iAds in your apps, but they’ll no longer be targeted to, or gather information about, your interests.
You'll still see iAds, but they won't "see" you.
To manage which apps can keep track of your location, go to Settings > General > Location Services. There you can turn off location tracking entirely, or allow it on an app-by-app basis depending on what you’ve installed. If you trust Apple, you can let Camera, Compass, and Maps note your location while disallowing third-party apps like IMDb or Flickr--or vice-versa. However, even if you turn off Location Services, all apps will prompt you to turn it back on the next time they try to use the feature.
Get ready to see this popup a lot.
With iOS 4, there’s no mystery about which apps have noted your location--a small arrow appears in your iPhone’s status bar to let you know when an app is accessing Location Services. Better yet, the Location Services menu in Settings posts an arrow beside any app that’s tracked your position in the last 24 hours. If you’ve taken a picture with embedded location data or found north with Compass, there’s an alert for that.
The little arrow by Camera means that the app has checked our location in the past day.
Remember that if you turn off Location Services entirely, Find My iPhone won’t work, because the GPS chip has to be active to locate your device. If you’re not a MobileMe user, it’s a moot point because you won’t have Find My iPhone, but anyone who’s used the service knows what a lifesaver it can be. MobileMe customers should activate Find My iPhone in Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > MobileMe, by flicking Find My iPhone to On, and then always keep Location Services turned on too.
If you have MobileMe, don't do anything that would disable Find My iPhone. Trust us.
The obvious answer to keeping your activities private on social location-aware apps like Foursquare is “Don’t use Foursquare.” Of course. And obviously think twice about linking it to your Twitter and Facebook accounts if you tend to keep those status updates more public than your hand-picked list of Foursquare friends.
Shh, don't tell.
But if you’re addicted to checking in, earning badges, and chasing that elusive mayorship of your favorite coffee shop, you can also check in “off the grid” by setting Share With Friends to No, and deselecting Twitter and Facebook. Foursquare counts the check-in but doesn’t publish it in the Foursquare app or on Foursquare.com. Not even your friends can tell where you are.