Social networking software

6 Steps to Protect Your Facebook Privacy

Whether you're a committed telephone addict, a tabloid aficionado, or a web surfer extraordinaire, we're sure you can't help but notice that every couple of days seems to bring another security scare. Scare stories make for good headlines, of course, but some affect you more than others. Such is the case with privacy -- something we're increasingly expected to manage for ourselves.

There are plenty of straightforward ways to claw back some peace of mind. As we outlined in our in-depth look at the latest online security threats, the little bits of information with which we furnish web apps can be collectively turned against us.

A good example is the Facebook app that asks what single topped the charts the day you were born. I don't mind admitting that my answer to this is one of those dated comedy tracks. But I'm not about to amuse Facebook's entire London network (several million-strong and counting) with its details, particularly when doing so narrows down my date of birth to a seven-day period. How many guesses does a hacker need to correctly ascertain and make use of my date of birth (DOB) on an official form, such as applying for a credit card? Not many, given those odds.

Changes to Facebook's interface now promote the idea of searching, Friends Reunited-style, for old acquaintances based on school years. Again, you're semi-publicly drilling down into the detail and then proudly displaying the results.

If you and five of your friends all went to the same school, it takes only one person to list their DOB for a snoop to reasonably deduce that you were all in the same school year.

Don't even get me started on the dangers of posting your full address, phone numbers, and myriad other details that only true friends should be privy to. And it's no better if you have a blog and post the information there. Web crawlers will happily serve it all up on a platter to anyone who knows how to use a search engine skilfully.

It's great to share; it's even better to check first who you're sharing it with.

Plug Facebook information leaks

Step 1. Click Account at the top right and choose Account Settings from the drop-down menu. From here, you can swap your existing password for a stronger alphanumeric one. It's also a good idea to remove your maiden or middle names if you included them at registration.

Step 2. Click the Networks tab to check you're happy with the sharing settings for any network you may have joined. You're no longer required to join a network, however, so you may prefer to remove yourself from it altogether. Also consider unlinking your Twitter and MySpace accounts, your personal blog and so on.

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Step 3. The Privacy Settings are equally important; they're also under the Account menu. Facebook has tightened up some of its defaults, but it's wise to check what you're sharing with whom. In particular, don't let third parties use your profile picture in their advertising, which may fool some of your less tech-savvy friends.

Step 4. If you log into Facebook with a mobile phone number, have signed up for Facebook texts or listed your number at sign-up, be aware that your phone number will be available for all your 'friends' to see (plus networks such as Foursquare). If you don't want them to call you or send you text spam, alter your settings on the Mobile tab.

Step 5. Hackers often seek out a weak link, such as someone who appears to accept friends willy-nilly. Having been accepted, they try to become friends with that person's friends, who assume the newcomer must be kosher. Go to Accounts, Edit friends for a list from which you can purge anyone you don't actively know.

Step 6. You'd be surprised what you can learn about people based on their answers to Facebook's quizzes. Most apps request permission to post your answers to the Live Feed and to your Wall but, even if you ignore such requests, commenting on someone else's results could reveal more than you intended to.

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