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Computer Central

Keep on top of Facebook privacy settings
Scripps Howard News Service


May 18, 2010

With more people leaving Facebook over privacy concerns (one of the top searches on Google now is how to close a Facebook account), the other social networking sites are trying to cash in.

Facebook, which is one of the most-used Internet sites, has been mired in controversy in recent months after the site's fiddling with its privacy settings upset some users. Of most concern is the site's decision to open certain content to other users, which is frustrating to combat because the site's privacy settings are a bit arcane and hard to use.

So is it time to close your Facebook account? Or move to MySpace, which is boasting that its privacy settings are simple and secure?

Well, I can't tell you if you should close your account, but I do think you should re-evaluate how you use the site.

For one, never post anything to the site that you would not want to see on the front page of your local newspaper. That goes double for photos, which have a half-life online of, oh, a billion years or so. So the first step is to resist the urge to post your entire life online. (Many employers are trying to use social networking sites to research potential workers, so keep that in mind as well.)

Second, never post personal information. Don't boast you're away from home for a week in Aruba, alerting any of your 1,000 friends (or friends of friends) who might get the urge to break into your house once they know you're gone.

Third, make sure you go onto Facebook every month and go into your account settings to make sure your privacy settings are where you want them. Do you want your content to be seen only by your friends or by friends of friends too? Have you opted out of advertising programs in which you do not want to participate?

Have you opted into programs on Facebook that open your privacy curtain? I remember my cousin sending me a link to a family tree program, basically asking me to confirm I was part of the clan. If I did, though, I would open my info up to anyone else linked in that application, anywhere. Not good.

You have to remember two things about computer programmers: sometimes they are clever for a reason and sometimes they are just morons. So read the fine print before you accept anything on Facebook or any other online site. Are you posting a bunch of photos of your family and children online someplace? Do you care if other people see them? What is the privacy of that site? (One famous website tried to slip in that any photo posted to it became the property of the site, so users were essentially populating a stock photo agency.)

Free is sometimes not free, so be careful out there. Remember that sites with little ad revenue are making their money somehow -- and sometimes that fare is your privacy.

Teach your kids too. Anything they do online will live forever and that can be a cruel lesson to learn. It's a tough world out there.


James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer-repair firm and a
tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.
His e-mail address is jim(at)cyberdads.comDistributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service,


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