Damnit, I have to be social.
January 30, 2011 6:50 PM   Subscribe

How do I keep my offline life private AFTER I sign up for Facebook?

I've avoided it like the plague, but I've come to the realization that I will NOT email, call, write, or visit people as much as I want to.

Facebook is the answer since all the different compartmentalized cliques I know (from the old people in my family to my luddite friends to my former Marine Corps units to people in everyday life) are on it. Everybody uses it to communicate, and I think I need it too.

I NEED to keep my online life totally separate from my offline life. Can this be done with Facebook?

Can only people I approve see my Facebook page, my vitals (age, location, etc), my Facebook usage, my friends, etc?

I've looked through previous askme questions hoping to get privacy advice. They seem to be about very specific issues the user is plagued with…or a question regarding privacy in general.

I want to know if I can setup a Facebook account and keep the information i want private. I want to know if using "lists" works. I want to know how not to have people from one "list" see stuff that is intended for people from another "list". What privacy settings should I use? How up-to-date must my contact info be? What contact info will they require?

How can I keep unintended sites/users from getting at my info? Is that even possible? What things can I do to insure that my account doesn't get hacked besides general password safety precautions?

Should I use it from an ipad? Should I use a 3rd party app to access Facebook?

Also…should I sign up as an individual user like most people do, or as "local business", "brand, product, or organization", or "artist, band, or public figure".

I looked into it, and I won't violate any of the TOS if I sign up as one of several options in the three choices above. Is there any benefit to doing it? Would I still have to disclose all sorts of personal information?

I have heard of individual users getting booted for not using their real name, or giving false information. Any tips?

Any tips in general?

Besides metafilter and a few other sites where I keep this same username, I haven't given out any information that would make it easy to find me in meatspace. I want to keep it that way unless I "friend" them. How seriously will joining Facebook compromise that?

ANY tips on Facebook privacy, information, nosey people, privacy etiquette, will be well appreciated. In fact, any related Facebook tips would be appreciated as well.

Thanks mefites.

Ps. And I know I don't have to mention that anecdotal comments regarding any of the above concerns are appreciated here as well.
posted by hal_c_on to Society & Culture (40 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
You can do whatever you want to do by organizing your friends into different groups, and then assigning privacy permissions for each group. You can also block your profile from being indexed by Google (but not comments on FB groups). So yes it is possible.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:58 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Facebook privacy settings are flexible enough to do most or all of what you want, but arguably not obvious and simple enough that you should expect to just set up your account and have it work the way you want off the bat without you making any mistakes.

So I suggest an incremental approach, so that you start with a bare-bones account, no contact info, and have been using facebook with that a while and have the hang of how it works before you start adding any info that you want to ensure isn't widely available. You'll feel better about lists and other privacy methods if you know their limits from firsthand experience, rather than counting on your understanding of someone else's explanation of their own understanding be a perfect match for how the system actually works.

Yes, pseudonyms are against policy, but I'd suggest using one anyway, since it sounds sufficiently important to you. If you can pick a pseudonym that isn't an obvious fake to a stranger, you should be fine. besides, the worst that can happen is you lose the account, and have to start over.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:02 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

What you may not expect is that people who are your friends can share photos you post, links you post, posts you post, and that anyone they are friends with will be able to see that. I don't think there's a way to prevent this - that is, I don't think there's a button you can click that says "no one can share/repost my photos."
posted by rtha at 7:05 PM on January 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

Further to Kokoryu, here's a slide deck by one of my colleagues describing exactly how to do it - the title is directed at people working for IBM, but there's really nothing about it at all that anyone couldn't do. It's very useful for maintaining the separate speheres you need.
posted by smoke at 7:05 PM on January 30, 2011 [7 favorites]

Can only people I approve see my Facebook page, my vitals (age, location, etc), my Facebook usage, my friends, etc?

I want to know if I can setup a Facebook account and keep the information i want private. I want to know if using "lists" works. I want to know how not to have people from one "list" see stuff that is intended for people from another "list". What privacy settings should I use? How up-to-date must my contact info be? What contact info will they require?
Every time you post a discrete item (photos, lists of what you had for breakfast, etc.) to Facebook, you're permitted to control exactly who sees it. There will be a button with a padlock on it. You can either individually list everyone you want NOT to see it, or set prefab lists ("work", "family", etc.) that are blocked from seeing it.

How can I keep unintended sites/users from getting at my info? Is that even possible? What things can I do to insure that my account doesn't get hacked besides general password safety precautions?
Facebook allows for "applications", 3rd-party-written applets and such. Some of these are essentially phishing scams, some are legitimate. None of them are essential to using Facebook, and for your purposes I think you'd be fine without ever touching one. When you click through to use one, Facebook will show an intermediate screen showing what kind of information the application is requesting, and giving you the option to cancel your request before giving the information.

Should I use it from an ipad? Should I use a 3rd party app to access Facebook?
Doesn't make a difference.

Also…should I sign up as an individual user like most people do, or as "local business", "brand, product, or organization", or "artist, band, or public figure".
I'd think that signing up under one of these would probably compromise most of your goals of maintaining a fairly high level of privacy. Those are generally accounts that are set up to be for news sharing for fans, easily findable, etc.

I have heard of individual users getting booted for not using their real name, or giving false information. Any tips?
I've never heard of this, except in cases where it was being done as deliberate impersonation of another person. I know multiple people who use some sort of joke name or alias on Facebook.

Feel free to memail if you want specifics on how to do any of this, Facebook's privacy/account settings are notorious for being poorly organized, but everything you want to do is possible.
posted by kagredon at 7:13 PM on January 30, 2011

I have no problems keeping things separate and I have friends from work on there so the lines are pretty blurred. Firstly, you don't have to give it any more info than your name (and plenty of people use pretend or fudged names without problem). Facebook doesn't need to know how old you are or where you live or work, regardless of how many nosy questions it asks. It always amazes me how many people don't quite get that part. Not having any networks or locations assigned or groups or 'likes' or whatever added goes a long way to not being connected to other people unexpectedly. I figure that anyone who knows me knows all that stuff anyway, and if they don't then they should either talk to me directly or live in ignorance.

Personally I have an actual photo of myself up there but you can leave it blank or put a photo of something else in your profile as well, keeping in mind that the profile photo is never private. Everything else can be locked down in the different friends lists pretty easily although it can take some time (and it can be difficult to hide your lists of friends). When you add a friend a drop down box appears where you can add them to some or all of the lists you have set up so they never see anything beyond what you show them. I also tell people I'm putting on limited lists that I don't use facebook very much so they're not surprised at the empty profile (meanwhile I'm using it daily to talk to other people, heh). There's a utility in the privacy settings to let you see what your profile looks like as any of your friends, and I also have a fake account I sign into sometimes to double check. Oh, also you don't have to add every idiot that friends you, and blocking someone makes it look like your account doesn't exist.

Remember that you don't always have control over how public other people are so if you post on their wall it may be seen more widely than you expected (although there are setting that are supposed to hide that). But keep your communications as personal messages rather than posted on someone's profile page and they will remain as private as email.

I see no reason to be anything other than just a person. Facebook does apparently like to delete stuff at random so treat it as ephemeral. But you also give them way too much control over anything you upload to your account so I never use it for photos or anything I care about anyway. It doesn't seem to matter how fake the name is with deletions, I know plenty of people with clearly made up names that have been around for years (and I was Shelley Cat for two years) whereas others with normal ones get shut down.

The best way to do it really is start with a blank profile. Use a name as close to yours as you want, add some people as friends and start to interact. Go over the privacy settings regularly (they're always changing), put however much you're comfortable with (and no more) on your account and see how it evolves. It's easier to add more information or reach out to more people as you go than to take something back once it's out (although blocking accounts is a great way to fall off their radar). If you make it so you don't show up in any searches and no one can message or friend you then your account can be basically impossible to find, so there's not a lot to be lost by trying it out for a while.
posted by shelleycat at 7:16 PM on January 30, 2011

Keep in mind that nothing is stopping someone who has permission to see your stuff from copying text/photos and posting them wherever they want. If there's something sensitive that you don't want the world to see, don't post it at all.

Also re: keeping your offline life private: impossible. Just in general. You go to a party, someone takes a photo of you there, they upload it to their Facebook.. no longer private, you know?

Nothing you post online is ever really private or secret, just easier or harder to find out.
posted by curious nu at 7:20 PM on January 30, 2011

(and it can be difficult to hide your lists of friends)

Oh, What I mean by that is that when you look at a fully locked down profile you can see their name and photo, often location (I don't know if you can turn that off as I've never used one), and generally their friends. Not the actual lists that each friend is assigned to, no one can see that but you. The idea is that this lets you know if you know the person and should add them. I think it's still possible to turn off the friends list thing but it's hard, and even then they may have fudged it again.

For a while you couldn't hide some other stuff (um, things you were fans of I think) but the new profile has changed all that. I find it much easier to just not like or group or fan or whatever things, because it's all silly extra crap anyway.
posted by shelleycat at 7:22 PM on January 30, 2011

Should I use it from an ipad?

If your paranoia is dialed to 11 (not that there's anything wrong with that), stick with accessing it via your browser, not via the iPhone/iPad Facebook app. FB has finally implemented https for browser access. They haven't implemented it for the app yet.
posted by jamaro at 7:24 PM on January 30, 2011

You go to a party, someone takes a photo of you there, they upload it to their Facebook.. no longer private, you know

But that was the case anyway, regardless of if you have an account. And you can change the setting so that any photos or videos of you tagged with your name are seen by only you (which I think means they disappear altogether although I've never been able to verify that), and you can untag them and make them stay untagged. So there is no reason why anything anyone else uploads about you needs to be linked to your account in any way, so you're not taking any more risk than you already do every time you leave the house anyway.

And yeah, anything you post can be copied or reposted. Same goes for every other website or place you publish content. This isn't new to facebook. And again there are settings to make sure things outside your account aren't linked to your account, so just having an account doesn't really change anything.
posted by shelleycat at 7:27 PM on January 30, 2011

I don't want to sound like a doomsayer, but there are times when I feel privacy can be an illusion, as curious nu and rtha point out. Someone can still screencap your postings or copy and paste text. My brother often mentions things I have said on Facebook to Mom. I realize that sounds paranoid, but I think it's just a case of learning to love the bomb :-) At the very least you're not obligated to report everything that happens, even if it feels like you should be.
posted by Calzephyr at 7:30 PM on January 30, 2011

And you can change the setting so that any photos or videos of you tagged with your name are seen by only you

This is true for your profile page but the original photo/video remains on the wall of the person who posted it. You can remove the tag (it's a link to your profile) from their photo and you can also set up alerts that will text msg or email you when you are tagged. Note that if someone adds your name to a photo or video caption but doesn't tag you, you'll not know about it except by chance.
posted by jamaro at 7:36 PM on January 30, 2011

My experience has been that if people were using facebook with the expectation that they will be posting information that is private in some way, eventually that information will be visible to people that they would like it not to be visible to.
posted by andoatnp at 7:39 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've looked through previous askme questions hoping to get privacy advice. They seem to be about very specific issues the user is plagued with…

Yes, and there's a reason there are so many of those questions on AskMe. People often ask questions about "I thought this would be only viewable by such-and-such people, so how did this other person see it?"

None of those specific questions is your question ... yet.

But once you start using Facebook, it's quite possible that you'll post something under the belief that only such-and-such people can see it, but someone else will see it. This is true even if you're vigilant about privacy. You might read some blog post from a year ago explaining how to control your Facebook privacy, and you might implement the advice and think you've been really thorough, but it turns out something about Facebook's policies have changed since then in a way that interferes with what you were trying to do.

I'm not saying this to try to debunk the more specific advice you've gotten in this thread. But after following all that advice, still follow one more general principle: aside from one-on-one areas (messages and IMs), never write anything on Facebook that you'd be mortified if it were published to all your Facebook friends.
posted by John Cohen at 7:59 PM on January 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

[rant] Slightly different angle -- yeah, you can set your privacy setting so that they're juuuust right. Yay! However, twice (TWICE!) now, I have logged back into FB after some time away (I'm a sporadic user), to find that they changed the privacy system, and the system defaulted you automatically to (wait for it) LEAST PRIVATE, even when my prior settings had been "Most Private" (as those were defined as at the time). So all my info had been out there for the world to see for who knows how long, until I logged in and had an "oh sh*t" moment. Either FB did not send me an email explaining this, or the email wasn't sufficiently blunt to make me understand what was happening (I don't remember).

This has happened twice so far, which I find completely unacceptable.

I *was*, however, able to change the first letter of my last name, so as to make it less recognizable, so you might try this if you want. I.e., if my name is John Jonson, I was able to change it to John Onson. I don't know how much that helped, but made me feel slightly better. YMMV.

[/end rant]
posted by bluesky78987 at 7:59 PM on January 30, 2011

I think that if you are going to a lot of parties where you're drinking out of a beer bong (or using a real bong), then Facebook may not be the place for you.

However, if you're just an average person doing average things, Facebook poses no danger for your professional image. For example, I don't play any online games like Mafiawars, so my friends are not being spammed with those updates. I'm not using Facebook with any social networking sites like Foursquared, so my friends are not getting spammed with those updates.

I rarely post status updates, so my friends are aren't getting spammed with those either. I generally avoid politics on Facebook, and really only use it to a) keep in contact with friends now living in other parts of the world and b) to post family photos, etc. I've also made a lot of friends on Facebook, mostly other translators or other people with a connection to Japan, so I'll interact with them, usually by commenting on their status updates.

I post a lot of stuff that I find on MetaFilter, which I guess may raise people's eyebrows, but I've been told by FB friends that they often check in on my profile because it's so interesting. Still, I try not to post anything too weird.

In short, I monitor my FB presence. I don't share a lot of stuff, because I figure people just don't care.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:02 PM on January 30, 2011

I *was*, however, able to change the first letter of my last name, so as to make it less recognizable

I've slightly altered my name, too, in order to make it impossible for it to come up in Google searches.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:03 PM on January 30, 2011

I've got my privacy settings locked down fairly tightly, but did discover that if I post something on the wall or on a photo of a person who does *not* have tight security settings (ie. blocking non-friends from seeing their wall or photos), that this activity is indicated on my wall and in the feeds of some of my contacts.

I figured this out the hard way. I posted a harmless, but funny family anecdote about my mother-in-law, in a response to a post one of my friends made on her own wall. This post showed up in my mother-in-law's Facebook news feed and she was (rightfully) pissed.

Around the same time, my younger brother posted some drunken, silly party photos of himself dressed in a furry animal costume that he had customized with a giant homemade penis. I made some snarky comment on one of the photos. A post linking to my comment and to the photo showed up on my wall and in the news feed of some of my friends, directing them right to my brother's party photos. He doesn't care who sees his photos, but since I've got conservative in-laws, co-workers and people I know on a professional level as Facebook contacts, I'd rather they not get a peek into my brother's party life.

So basically, be VERY careful about what you post on other people's photos and walls because it can come back to haunt you.

Oh, and one more incident that has made me a more cautious Facebook user: last year I posted some photographs that I had taken of cute animals. Without asking, one of my Facebook contacts posted several of the photos to one of those popular "cute animal" blogs. The photo is now all over the internet, uncredited to me. Awesome.

I now use Facebook as a very basic way to maintain contact with people and tend not to share much.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:08 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would suggest using your real first name and last initial, rather than a pseudonym, because otherwise your real, actual friends might not not think it's really you. I got a friend request from a very dear friend who used some fake name on Facebook. She also didn't have a real photo there. I had no idea it was her. Don't be so fake that your true friends don't recognize you!

But, in general, Facebook allows you to do just about everything you've asked.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:29 PM on January 30, 2011

Honestly, I think the answer for you would be to put minimal information on your account and lock down privacy settings for anything that might be an issue. The less information to go on the better really. And I guess, don't friend anyone who might be an issue. People tend to take this the wrong way in 'meatspace' though.

I keep an account due to peer pressure, but it has extremely little information on it and has the most stringent settings available on Facebook. That being said, I have to periodically check as most every change to privacy settings seems to be enabled by default.

Good luck.
posted by graxe at 8:37 PM on January 30, 2011

Make sure you set it so that other people can't tag you in photos and have them appear on your wall without you approving each photo first.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:05 PM on January 30, 2011

Ways to communicate/stay in touch on facebook:

1) Light facebook-stalking. Be friends with whoever you would like to sort of keep in touch with, and look at your news feed, friends' updates, etc. Obviously no privacy concerns for you there, and, well, it's kind of the easiest way to know what's going on with all your friends!

2) Facebook messages. These are private, like e-mail. Only the intended recipients should see this. Not to be confused with wall posts.

3) Wall posts. People can post on your wall (if you have one), and you on theirs. For the most part, this is not private. Their friends can see what you write, your friends can see what they write. The posting of these wall posts comes up in others' news feeds. This should probably be only used for happy birthday messages and the like. If you want to ask someone how they've been, #2 is probably better.

4) Status updates. You can post these, and post other types of media as well. Your friends can see this stuff, and it comes up in their newsfeeds, and depending on your privacy settings, sometimes their friends can see as well (especially if they comment or something)

5) "Liking" things. Everyone can see what you like, and the pages that you like (such as musicians, TV shows, etc.) can post updates that come up on your newsfeed. I enjoy seeing updates from my favorite shows, but to each his own.

6) Groups/events. If you post in a public group/event, anyone can see this (and has the link yo your profile). Private ones, only the invited can see it. These can be useful but aren't very private. They can also send you messages.

There are other things, but these are the main things.

You need not post any information that you don't want the internet to know, though sometimes it becomes an issue of you wanting it to share stuff with certain people. I suggest messages, since those are the most private of anything, can be sent to multiple people.

I mean, most things are settable privacy-wise. I have it set so only my friends can see anything (my photos, my wall, etc.). However, I have no expectation that only my friends *will* see this. As such, I keep my facebook activity pretty PC, untag questionable photos (they're still there, but hey, as long as they're not connected with my name...besides, they really aren't that bad). I only post pictures I'd want my grandma to see (because, well, she does see them) and post status updates about things like snow days, not breakups. I don't air my emotional laundry on facebook (though sometimes I chuckle at stuff other people post...). I use some games and apps, but I'm careful to never ever post to my newsfeed, wall, or anybody else's, or use the kind of apps that would do so automatically.

I'm super careful about privacy - I'm happy with my balanced approach. My cell phone number is on facebook - only my friends can see it, and it's a matter of convenience, and anyone who really wanted it could get it otherwise if it weren't there, whether through mutual friends or something else. My profile is private enough that I'm not worried about spam. Same goes for my email address, IM handles, etc. I also have the advantage of an incredibly generic name that makes me virtually un-searchable.

Ohhh gosh. That post was long, and didn't even really answer your questions. Hope it's helpful!
posted by R a c h e l at 11:10 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lock it down.

Here's a few screenshots of my settings, which primarily restrict the profile to friends only...

Overall profile privacy settings
Sharing settings
Sharing settings/contact info

A few notes:
1) The wall is turned off. People can comment on individual items or status updates however not on the wall itself. This is primarily to focus comments around topical conversation rather than general messages.

2) "Friends only; Except Randoms". This category restricts commenting and mobile number display for people that I do not directly know. If someone friends me and I do not recognise them yet do not want to refuse them, they go onto the Randoms list and can see the profile and posting but not those two actions, which I consider to be the two biggest privacy concerns on FB.

Also there is a setting somewhere in there to display the profile in public searches. That is definitely turned off.

This is all down to what your intention for facebook is. My own is for connecting with people that I already know, thus I am not keen on using it to advertise or broadcast anything on the public internet. On the platform itself, people must be my friend to see anything besides the profile picture and name.

That is done intentionally as facebook can be a tremendous liability if misused. Further, even for "Friends", I keep the content very focused. There was an article here last week about how people use facebook to present an idealised image of themselves. I target a sanitised image. Just as I wouldn't tell a stranger personal problems, I don't feel the need to share very much on facebook.

Some have commented that that is self-censoring or somehow disingenuous but then again, facebook is just a tool and I think it's worth being very clear on exactly how you want to use it.
posted by nickrussell at 2:35 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Data points of facebook privacy settings as of this month.

(1) I set it so only I can see the photos I am tagged in but this did not stop photos I was tagged in turning up on other people's news feeds. (It just means they can't get to the whole collection of them thru my profile.)

(2) The preview profile thing where you see your profile as a friend doesn't tell you everything. I set it up so my posts could only be seen by me (and so my Wall is basically off). But nonetheless stuff I did on the site (e.g. liking something) turned up on other people's news-feeds, and there was no way for me to find out/preview what it was, except by asking people, or seeing the results manifest themselves.

Obviously, I'm not happy with either of these things. Oh well.
posted by squishles at 3:54 AM on January 31, 2011

I am eating this like shooter mcgavin eats pieces of shit for breakfast.

Are some of the tips above the most foolproof in hiding your existence on facebook to everyone but the people you "friend"?

I'm also kind of worried about their changing their privacy policies, and defaulting it to the least private setting. How often will that happen in the future...or are their policies pretty stabilized now?

Also, if anyone has more details on their own personal privacy settings and why they configure them a certain way for a certain goal, I'd appreciate that as well.

Thanks again, dudes.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:16 AM on January 31, 2011

Make sure you set it so that other people can't tag you in photos and have them appear on your wall without you approving each photo first.

How do you do this?
posted by John Cohen at 4:30 AM on January 31, 2011

I'm also kind of worried about their changing their privacy policies, and defaulting it to the least private setting. How often will that happen in the future...or are their policies pretty stabilized now?

We can't predict the future, but in the past, their private policies have changed a lot without them giving clear notice to users.
posted by John Cohen at 4:31 AM on January 31, 2011

For maximum privacy, what I would do is:

1) non-real photo
2) non-searchable name (use first name + initials) -- the worry isn't a public search, which you can turn off, but a search within facebook
3) lock down all privacy as hard as possible
4) and make the *only* interaction I make on facebook is sending private messages and adding friends: no clicking "like" other people's stuff, no commenting on their posts, no status updates or pictures or etc. The thing that this leaves most obviously open is that people can see who your mutual friends are. (You can stop them seeing your friend list, but if you're both friends with someone, you can't hide that AFAIK)
posted by squishles at 5:08 AM on January 31, 2011

I hate Facebook, and assume that despite my locking my settings down, they will continue to try to force me to share more information about myself, and that they will collect as much info about me and my network as possible. Unfortunately, they're also a really good photo-sharing site, and I have lots of pictures from one of my hobbies that I want to share with people in them .... So, what I've done (with the goal of making it very hard to go from "my name on resume" -> my fb page, even if fb were to make every bit of information it has about me public):

0) turn off the stupid facebook platform functionality (where Facebook tries to weave itself into the rest of my internet activities)
1) variant on my name - to help foil google searches
2) real pic of me, but you can't really see my face
3) compartmentalized group of friends - I ONLY friend people from the above-mentioned activities. No family, no work/school friends. Facebook doesn't need to know my whole network. If I ever have a compelling reason to connect with those people on Facebook, I'd create a different account.
4) fake birthday, all other info left blank
5) dedicated email address, just for fb

Yes, I'm paranoid, and yes, some of this is probably overkill/ineffective. But it makes me feel better.
posted by Metasyntactic at 6:22 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've weighed getting a Facebook account just so that all of my long lost pals could track me down again. But I have refused until now and, after reading some of the responses above, am going to continue to refuse. Facebook will treat your private info like a commodity that they own.

They have repeatedly overstepped their bounds by assuming ownership of user information and then turning around and selling that information to others.

Julian Assange revealed corporate/government secrets for free and is Public Enemy #1. Mark Zuckerberg revealed millions of users information for money and he's the Man of the Year? I don't think so.
posted by fenriq at 8:38 AM on January 31, 2011

Squishles is likely correct as to 'most secure', as far as this thing goes, until they change the privacy controls at some point again without informing you it's going to happen first.
posted by bitterkitten at 9:07 AM on January 31, 2011

In some fpp about facebook that appeared sometime in the last year or so, there was an interesting comment or link about how some Kids Today are using Facebook: they post their photos/links/whathaveyou, but every month or three, they go through their old stuff and delete the photos/links/comments they've made on other people's walls.

I thought this was an interesting way to keep one's facebook fairly....sanitized, if you will, since all that's available for your friends to see is what you've put up in the most recent [time]. I've considered doing that myself, but eh. I'm lazy.
posted by rtha at 10:00 AM on January 31, 2011

I have a friend who makes his name nonsearchable, but recognizable to astute friends, by spelling each name backwards. For instance, I could use Nhoj Nehoc.

Other relevant facts:

* There's a little space right below your profile photo (or lack thereof) to write a short tagline. You could write your real name there.

* When you send a friend request, you can add a message to it. You could have a stock message that you always add, e.g. "Hi, John Cohen here; I'm just using a pseudonym to keep all my stalkers at bay :) "
posted by John Cohen at 10:05 AM on January 31, 2011

(Actually, capitalizing the last letter of each name would be even better: nhoJ nehoC. I don't know if Facebook allows this.)
posted by John Cohen at 10:20 AM on January 31, 2011

I'm also kind of worried about their changing their privacy policies, and defaulting it to the least private setting.

They do like to change things around and the new default settings recently are always the least secure. But that doesn't mean they change *my* settings to be less secure. Everything I've marked as private has always stayed private, everything I've marked as friends only (or some variant of that) has stayed as I marked it. None of my information or activity has ever been made less secure after I made it more secure. So don't rely on default settings for anything but don't be paranoid either.

What they have done is added new information which is less secure, like when groups appeared and suddenly you could be added to a group without your knowledge until you opted out (which involved someone else doing something to you, which was not a problem for me as my friends aren't dicks). Or when they turned interests into pages and showed them to everyone (again not a problem for me as I don't list interests and shit anyway). There were issues with the networks at one stage also, but there's no reason for you to add yourself to one anyway (unless you want to be linked to every other user in NZ I guess?).

They do always put a notification in your account somewhere when they make a change (a small banner across the top generally) so every time I see something like that I check it, regardless of how innocuous it sounds. I don't know if they send emails too because I have all the notifications turned off. I also notice that being in NZ means I always get the changes rolled out weeks after people in the US, so I've usually seen it on metafilter or commented on by my facebook friends long before it happens to me anyway. Not having extraneous information added makes this less likely to be an issue too.

For privacy settings you just need to spend time going through every list, clicking every small link anywhere and setting them how you like. Making a custom setting to "only me" is good for any kind of personal information because that means it's not shown to anyone else. The settings are somewhat dynamic so what you see depends on what information you've given them or what apps you've used etc (avoid third party apps btw, you don't need them anyway) so it's hard to tell you what I've got that you can apply. Turn off "Instant personalisation" and "Public search" in the security area (you have to click the link about apps and websites (bottom left) to get there), and turn off the Third party advertising in your account settings. Turn off anything you don't recognise, you can always add it back later if you want. Check and double check how it looks.

Keep in mind that anyone can upload stupid photos of you right now already, anyone can copy and share anything you put on the internet regardless of if it was on facebook, anyone can tell your mom what you wrote in an email or said on the phone, anything you post anywhere on the internet can get where you don't want it, and the majority of the privacy issues around facebook are not new or unique. It's just that people use that site a lot more candidly and often than other sites plus demonising facebook is the Done Thing. Be careful what you write there like you are careful what you write anywhere, and don't tell secrets to any shared website regardless of how locked it is.

Lastly read the TOS. Particularly this bit: "For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos ("IP content"), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook ("IP License"). "

Thinking that a photo you upload to facebook is private is just silly when you've explicitly given facebook a license to do anything they like with it. People have had their profile pictures sold to advertising companies, so don't assume facebook won't use these rights. It's not a good photo sharing site and personally I would never use it as one.
posted by shelleycat at 12:53 PM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Or when they turned interests into pages and showed them to everyone (again not a problem for me as I don't list interests and shit anyway).

OK, good for you since you didn't happen to list interests (including favorite activities, books, movies, etc. -- and also your education and work history), but most people do list those things. One day Facebook started making people convert these to "liked" pages, which are always fully public. Do you think Facebook went out of its way to clarify the privacy implications? No, in fact, back when the change was made, I looked around all the Facebook help pages I could find, and none of them explained this. So that's a counterexample to the idea that once you've set certain privacy settings, they're locked in.

There was also the "Beacon" disaster, where Facebook would broadcast purchases you made on other websites! That was quickly discontinued because it created a furor, but there's no assurance Facebook won't make another blunder along those lines. In my opinion, it's already done so, by making people convert their profile info to liked pages. But since the privacy invasion is more subtle, it doesn't seem to have resonated with many people. Maybe most people are fine with it or don't notice it, but for someone with your level of concern about privacy, it just doesn't make sense to assume that the privacy settings will never change on you.
posted by John Cohen at 2:07 PM on January 31, 2011

Do I need to worry about cookies with facebook? Should I only visit it after clearing my browser's cache and cookies? Should I only visit other sites after doing the same?
posted by hal_c_on at 2:20 PM on January 31, 2011

but most people do list those things.

Why? Seriously, facebook has no need to know any of that stuff so why tell it? Particularly starting an account now with the privacy issues known. (I'm not being snarky, I really don't get why people give all that kind of info to any random website, facebook included).

Beacon never got enabled in my account because I'm in New Zealand. Same goes for some of the other third party advertising stuff that's in there now. Either way, I did advocate checking any new change as it occurs and being careful with what info you give them because of all this stuff.

I logout of facebook when I'm not using it because I don't like seeing my name pop up on unrelated websites. I don't know if it still follows where I'm going (probably) but I'm not too worried about cookies tracking that stuff anyway.
posted by shelleycat at 2:45 PM on January 31, 2011

Also the answer to this specific question is for hal_c_on not to put any of that extra information in there if he's not happy sharing it with anyone. Since we're talking about how he should use an account going forward rather than just how people in general do it. Anything with a specific privacy setting for that one thing has historically remained as private as that one setting says it should (wall posts, contact details, etc), so there is a higher level of confidence that that will stay as it is going forward. So he can make a decision on a case by case basis for that stuff. Personally I think that trying it out for a while with minimal info is the best way to get a feel for what you're comfortable with. If nothing else you can see how much or how little other people are showing and see where you fit in.
posted by shelleycat at 2:54 PM on January 31, 2011

but most people do list those things.


Because I want that information to be freely available to my friends and acquaintances that might otherwise not have it. I want them to be able to find my number easily and allow them to identify me based on my school (since my name is so generic) and such. Information 'for facebook', no, friends, yes.
posted by R a c h e l at 5:21 PM on January 31, 2011

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