Social networking software

Facebook Safety: A Primer

Online data thieves will jump at the chance to harvest even the most innocuous personal information. But you can tighten up Facebook security with just a few careful steps.

As we outlined in our recent 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.

If you use a social-networking site such as Facebook, you are responsible for the security of your data. Fortunately, there are plenty of straightforward ways to claw back some peace of mind.

By now we all know the dangers of posting postal address, phone numbers, and myriad other details that only true friends should be privy to. It's also worth noting that seemingly worthless data such as birthday and mother's maiden name can be used to spoof your identity.

It's great to share; it's even better to check first who you're sharing it with. Here we show you how to lock down your data on Facebook -- so surf over to Facebook.com, log in, and we'll get started. (And don't forget to become a fan of PC Advisor while you're there!)

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.

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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