Whether you call it a time-saver or a time-suck, Facebook has surpassed the almighty Google as the most trafficked website in the U.S. -- and the second most popular site in the world. Whatever you happen to think of it, if you’re not living in a cave in northern Pakistan (and maybe even if you are), you’re probably using it in some manner. Need someone’s contact info? Check. Birthday minders? Ditto. Photos and videos to share? Done and done. Random thoughts to send into the ether? Well, you know the drill.
But as quickly as Facebook has become an integral part of the way we communicate with friends (and “friends”), it has also raised concerns. How much sharing is too much sharing? What do Facebook and its marketing partners really know about you? And what are they doing with all of that juicy data? Men’s Life Today reached out to David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World, for tips on getting the best out of Facebook while avoiding its potential dark side.
Don’t Be Daft
For starters, says Kirkpatrick, if there’s something with the potential to embarrass, don’t post it. Despite how secure you believe your privacy settings to be, modern society is littered with Internet roadkill, like jobs lost, scholarships rescinded and relationships shattered simply because a user didn’t think twice before posting. “This is a shockingly common-sense rule that many people disregard,” says Kirkpatrick. But don’t go too far in the opposite direction, he advises. “If you never post anything of interest, you’re less likely to have anything of interest come back to you.”
If your standards for accepting friends have been, shall we say, less than discerning, Kirkpatrick suggests it could be time to do some pruning. “One of the classic errors is to accept every friend request you receive,” he says. The problem with such loose standards? “You’re empowering these individuals over your information.”
It may also be time to shed people you do know, but who don’t reflect your sensibility or values (see “jobs lost,” above). “If you’re beginning to question their judgment, hide them from your news feed or unfriend them entirely.” If we were to discard all but those whom we consider true-blue buddies, says Kirkpatrick, many of us would wind up eliminating three-quarters of our so-called friends.
Here’s a little heads-up: Third-party apps gain access to your personal information when you install them. (And yes, “Mafia Wars” and “Farmville” fans, that includes you.) So be picky. “Something that looks cool, but which I’ve never heard of and that only a couple of my friends are using? I’m not going to adopt it,” Kirkpatrick says flatly. If you already have an app installed but haven’t used it in a while, delete it. Why? Because even if you’re not doing anything with it, chances are its developers are still doing something with your data.
Fortunately, right before you install any app, Facebook will remind you that you’re about to hand over access to your info. The choice to “allow” is up to you. Pretty simple.
Although he concedes that navigating Facebook’s privacy settings can be like trying to solve a Chinese puzzle, Kirkpatrick says an investment of 45 minutes should be enough to establish settings you’re comfortable with. For advice on how to get started, he recommends the site AllFacebook.com. (Search for “privacy settings.”)
To be on the safe side, a good across-the-board option is “friends only.” If you have a burning desire to make your life an open book for exes, frenemies and strangers, go ahead and use “everyone.” If you’re particularly guarded about your information, there’s a custom setting called “only me” -- though if you choose this option, you might just want to delete your Facebook account altogether and go back to calling your friends on a landline. Tedious, yes, but no privacy worries!
And what about those ads in the margin that seem to know a little too much about you? They don’t concern Kirkpatrick terribly. If Facebook is doing its job and serving ads that jibe with your interests, you might welcome seeing some of them. And if you don’t, “they’re easy to disregard,” Kirkpatrick points out, explaining that one of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s core tenets is that advertising should not disrupt the user experience.
Despite articles like this one, Kirkpatrick knows that many of you will continue to throw caution to the wind. “Facebook is loosening inhibitions about self-display,” he acknowledges, “and we’re becoming a more transparent people.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing, he adds, but if you’re going to share, just be sure you do it wisely -- or be ready for your loony-tunes ex, nosy co-worker and the rest of the world to know your business.