Social Networking – Getting Your Privacy Settings Right!

I have been a member of Facebook for some time now and have recently joined Twitter and just yesterday joined the locational social networking site Bright Kite.  It was whilst setting up my privacy settings on Bright Kite and reading some proposed changes to Facebook’s privacy settings that I realised a guide to keeping your data private may be useful to many others using these sites.

The first and probably most important piece of infromation I can give anyone is do not supply your date of birth unless you really have to.  On Facebook it is nice to let your friends know when it is your birthday but if anyone else sees this information it can be very valuable to fraudsters.  You can omit the year from your date of birth if you like your friends wishing you a happy birthday but personally I feel it is best to keep it hidden as your ‘real friends’ should know this information already.


So first I will look at Facebook.  Initially Facebook’s default opened you up to a lot of people being able to view your personal private data but now this has been tightened up, but I feel you need to tighten it up further.  First you need to consider who you will be friends with on the site.  If you are just going to be friends with people you trust you can use the following settings.  Go to the top menus from your home page Settings>Privacy Settings>Profile.

This screen gives you a lot of control over who you want to see what.  As a rule I have everything set to ‘Only Friends’ as this means that others cannot see your information.  You can still be found by people wanting to add you as a friend, but they cannot view any of your profile.  I know many friends who use the ‘Friends of Friends’ setting, but how many of us actually know who is on our friends friend list and therefore I say use this with a lot of caution.

If there are people on your friends list that you still would rather not see certain bits of information you can also block them from seeing certain bits of your profile.  To add people to restrict from seeing certain bits of information simply click ‘Edit Custom Setting’ below the section you want to restrict for example ‘Photos tagged of you’ if you didn’t want certain people to see photos of you.  This is good if for instance your boss is a friend on Facebook.  Once you have clicked that option a box appears and you can start typing the name of the person you wish to restrict and it should be populated from you friends list. Once you have added all the people you wish to restrict and have edited all your settings here just click ‘Save Changes’.

The next bit to set is again within the initial Privacy settings below the Profile option you just edited.  This is Privacy>Search.  This area sets what people searching for you can find about you i.e. when a friend is looking to add you as a friend.  Now in this section I allow everyone to find me, you can restrict this but it will make it very hard for your friends to add you if they haven’t already got your email address.  Below this you can select what current non-friends can see when they search for you.  I suggest here you just allow searches to find your profile picture and a link to add you as a friend.  Save these changes and you are done.  This should provide you with ample protection as long as you don’t have any dodgy friends, and if you do simply impose further restrictions on them as described above.

Twitter unlike Facebook is more for people wanting to follow celebrities or to post mini blogs about their life.  Whilst you can completely lock down your profile so that only people you allow to follow can see your profile, you won’t get many people following you this way to see your views on the world.  Also whilst you often want to increase your followers by encouraging complete strangers to follow you, you also want to keep your private information safe.  The general rule any ‘Tweeters’ should follow is edit yourself.  Don’t just say everything that is going on in your life as often upon reflection you will notice small bits of personal information have slipped out.
Your first place to visit once signed up is Settings>Account.  Choose your username not using any dates of birth for obvious reasons.  Secondly the system asks for your real name, now here is where you should lean on the side of caution.  Using your real name enables your friends to find you more easily but also gives out your real name to the whole world.  You also need to remember that your friends can find you by your email address anyway.  I therefore recommend using the same real name as your username.

Location, now this is a piece of information that is quite easy to give too much information away.  When I first started tweeting I liked to update my profile location from my iPhone.  Now be warned, this will give an extremely accurate map reference of your current location so I recommend you do not use these facilities on GPS phones.  Instead manually type in your location but make it to your nearest city instead of your exact location.  You must also bear in mind that if someone has seen your home location and then sees that you are out this can open you up to opportunistic burgalars.  So it is best to leave your profile location stating, if anything, your city and to not update it when you are out.  On this point it worth mentioning about providing map links in your tweets, whilst very cool and useful for locating you if meeting up with friends, also bear in mind that people you do not know can also see at what time you posted that location and exactly where you are, again opening up the possibilities of being burgaled.


Now this is the final social networking site which I joined and also one of the ones that can have quiet a few security risks if you are not tech smart.  I assume the same will apply to many other locational services such as Loopt and Google Latitude although Bright Kite is one of the better services available in the UK that I have found.
One of the first things that will effect your decisions is if you are looking to use the Bright Kite service with Facebook and Twitter.  I wanted to use all the services together and this will help to cover off most security issues.  Firstly the same considerations need to be made, if you are posting to Twitter or Facebook, do you really want those audiences to see your locational information.

In the account settings it provides the options yet again to supply your date of birth so that it can supply your age on your profile.  I think it is best to leave this blank as any indication of your date of birth is filling in the blanks for the fraudsters.  The next area you should look at is Account settings>Privacy.  If you are hoping to make friends via this service you will want to set your profile to public, but I strongly recommend not using this setting as it enables the world to see you current location which is not advisable as it gives thieves the intel they need to know when to strike your home.  I myself chose a private profile as I was looking to use the service with my friends and my wife and I can invite them using the helpful options in the site to do just that without opening myself up to the world.  Now the next part to consider is the amount of information you supply to each category of friends (Trusted, Friends, Everyone else).  Naturally most security minded would set Everyone else to Hidden, and trusted/friends to exact/city which is great for our privacy.  However there is one issue with using these setting, it will not allow you to post to Twitter.  I have therefore set my posts for Everyone else to allow city location, this allows the postings to reach my Twitter account also but not my check ins.  Whilst people on Bright Kite can see the post of the City you are in this does reduce the amount of information strangers can obtain without locking you out from updating Twitter etc.  The final change I recommend you make is from the Account Settings>Sharing tab.  Under the Twitter section I highly recommend you deselect all of the options that can post to Twitter except for ‘When I Post a Note’.  I wanted to also be able to post photo’s however unfortunately this provides a link to the site which give the location that you took the photo so unfortunately a bit of a risk.  The final change I recommend making here is next to the ‘When I Post a Note’ click customize.  This gives you some coding to decide what is posted to Twitter with your note.  I solely have $note selected so the note and nothing else reaches my Twitter account.  If you use any of the other options,  especially $link it will provide a link to Bright Kite and provide the viewer with a lot more information than you want to share such as your location etc.

I hope people find this guide useful and that we can enjoy and remain safe on these great networking sites and if you know me, please add me or follow me on Twitter!


One Response to “Social Networking – Getting Your Privacy Settings Right!”

  1. G Says:

    Thanks for the tips!!! I have a facebook too and This article really helped me a lot! I am a teen writer at which is a parenting blog from the kid’s perspective there are 60 teen and tween writers run by teen author, Vanessa Van Petten. We just posted a video of “How to set Privacy Settings in Social Networks” here:

    and would love for you to check it out and tell us what you think or repost if you like it,

    Cheers, thanks for checking it out!

    G and the Teen Team

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