Safe facebooking
October 14, 2007 9:49 PM   Subscribe

Help me practice safe (ie. semi-anonymous) facebooking.

I've been devoutly avoiding Facebook. I'm kind of curious to see what it's like, but I'd like to do it in a way that means as little information as possible ends up in others' hands (especially, but not exclusively, those interested in datamining).

I'm told that FB is very proactive, and not entirely forthcoming, about trying to get as much info about you as possible when you sign up/sign in... and also that a rookie might not be aware of all the sorts of information that become public, indirectly or otherwise, when they create an account and start using the site.

Please give me tips/insights in to how to keep a FB account as separate as possible from my actual life, while still being useable.
posted by poweredbybeard to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
um, well now that facebook is open to everyone you can be an entirely different person on facebook than you would be in real life...and you can use a dummy email account.

I would just set up a completely different online persona, don't put any pictures up, and you'd still be able to browse anyone that's in your network.

Though facebook's utility value lies that you can stalk your friends. If you want to do this, then you'll have to put some personal information (at least your name) so they can identify you, unless you have some nickname you can call yourself.
posted by unexpected at 9:51 PM on October 14, 2007

It's not as sketchy as it's made out to be. Take some time when you first sign up to go through your account/settings tabs at the top right corner of the screen, and read all the details very carefully. There's a lot you can control in terms of who can access your information and what information to broadcast.
posted by Phire at 10:02 PM on October 14, 2007

unexpected is right. It used to be that you needed a college email (or, later, a business email from a list), but now anyone can register. He's also right that there's not much use in a Facebook account that isn't tied to a particular network and doesn't let anyone know who you are.
posted by danb at 10:05 PM on October 14, 2007

I think the three biggest mistakes people make with Facebook is:

a) broadcasting their birthday (including birthyear)
b) broadcasting their email or messenger ID
c) forgetting that your posted photos default to being visible to *anyone* on your network, regardless of whether they are friends or not

However, it's a lot of fun, although I can see how stalking could be a problem. Like someone else said this thread, make sure you understand the privacy settings. You may also choose to include a very limited amount of info first.

But it's still a great way to connect with old classmates or people in different parts of the world.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:30 PM on October 14, 2007

If I were going to make a big effort to use facebook and not reveal extra information, I would

a) create an actual account, with a minimum of information. Real name, maybe country/city, gender, birthday is handy for friends :) but birthyear isn't. Whatever you feel comfortable with. Adjust privacy settings, adding as many restrictions as I felt necessary. Probably avoid joining any networks until you've figured the place out a bit. Be careful about adding applications - not so much about datamining, but every app you add is revealing more about your personality.
b) google yourself while not logged in to facebook. Check out how much of your profile is available in the search results (adjustable in privacy settings).
c) create a fake account, that you are not facebook friends with, and check out the real account from this one to test your privacy settings - don't forget to change the fake accounts networks, if your real account joined any, as people in your network have extra access.
d) Either repurpose account c, or create a third account. Become facebook friends with d. Try making it a limited-access friend and see what it can see about you, make it a full friend, etc.

I haven't actually done this, and don't really think it necesary. I have meticulously gone through the privacy settings (quite straightforward, really) and decided what level of sharing I am allowing for each item.

If you were to do this, bear in mind that fake accounts are strictly against facebook TOS, and they probably have a clause somewhere saying they can disable any account shown (or suspected) to be responsible for fake accounts. They should all have completely different email addresses, and account d should have a believable identity and probably be deleted after you've done your checking (as it is easier to connect to you than account c).
posted by jacalata at 10:34 PM on October 14, 2007

My facebook is under a fake name. No pictures. Some details are legit but some are made up.

I dunno, I'm not that into it, actually. As I said elsewhere recently, I have no urge to "connect" with people that I'm not currently connected to in real life. There is a reason I'm not still friends with the people I went to high school with.

I also find facebook UI to be pretty convoluted, especially the privacy settings. There are about a dozen different setting for very similar-sounding things and it takes a lot of reading to understand the difference between each.
posted by Brittanie at 11:15 PM on October 14, 2007

The only value in facebook is being able to mesh your various social networks together a bit. Privacy? You have no privacy, get over it (thanks to Scott McNeally I think there).
posted by singingfish at 11:27 PM on October 14, 2007

In an extension of the rule about email from a real name address, don't do or say anything with your facebook that you don't want your parents, your SO, and your boss to read.

It's not just OK to have multiple internet identities, it's strongly advisable. Be careful about how they connect to each other, and to your meatspace self.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:37 PM on October 14, 2007

Also, if you like Scrabble at all add the application Scrabulous. It lets you play multiple "postal" Scrabble games at once, with no time pressure. There are similar applications for chess, and a few other games, but Scrabulous is the best of them by a country mile.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:41 PM on October 14, 2007

I just wanted to add something here to counter all the gloom and doom about privacy.

My mother, a very savvy woman who is definitely NOT a member of the original Facebook demographic, once tried to Facebook me. She found exactly what I'd allowed to be found--my photo, my name, and my networks (that is, colleges, cities, business, etc that you affiliate with). She was very frustrated that she couldn't haunt my facebook and discover icky things about me; I, on the other hand, was thrilled because that meant my privacy settings (alluded to in earlier posts) were working.

What's the point, if I might ask, of creating a Facebook account with fake information or super limited information?

The reason I ask that is because what seems to be the consensus about Facebook (at least among the college people) is that it is a way of keeping in touch, a sort of mutual bragfest, and only secondarily a way to meet new people or network. If you don't want to keep in touch with friends, you might want to think more along the lines of Myspace (at least, that's what my admittedly prejudiced take on it is).

The privacy settings, to sum up, are very easy to set up (and relatively straightforward--you sound like you want everything to be as locked down as possible, so just select that option most every time) and work fairly well.

I'm completely unGoogleable and I have a Facebook about 1/3 open to the world. So it *can* work, but I would just add that it's a good idea to keep in mind this question: are you sure you're going to enjoy using Facebook like that?
posted by librarylis at 1:09 AM on October 15, 2007

Your privacy is also limited by what your friends post. I know someone who was very careful about their privacy (pseudonym, picture that doesn't reveal who they are, limited setting etc) but their friends posted photos with them in it and tagged them (linked them) to their pseudonym account.
posted by furtive at 4:33 AM on October 15, 2007

I'm a lawyer, I have one, and the only potentially embarrassing thing on there is the fact that I support Chris Dodd for president. It's a good idea to have a simple, professional profile on the major social networking sites (my Myspace is even more bare-bones) than to avoid them entirely.

I still see undergraduates posting their dorm room name and number along with skanky pictures, and it makes me shudder.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 5:02 AM on October 15, 2007

You can have a facebook account and be completely invisible to everybody but those who you add as friends. You will not show up in searches or on your friends lists.

My girlfriend just signed up, and I had to send a message to a mutual friend asking her to add her, as she did not show up in any searches.

Check the privacy settings - they are quite versatile.
posted by davey_darling at 5:35 AM on October 15, 2007

furtive: you can remove tags of yourself from any photo, and once you have done so nobody except you can add them back. (I haven't used this feature, just read about it, so YMMV etc).
posted by jacalata at 5:49 AM on October 15, 2007

Seconding librarylis. Facebook is about making connections with people you know in real life. It started out as Ivy League-only and only later opened up to all colleges, then anyone. The same model still applies: connect with people you know, browse people in your network (ie, people you go to school with), keep in touch with friends after everyone graduates and goes away. Just exercise some common sense about what information you share; there are privacy controls to back you up.
posted by lhall at 8:03 AM on October 15, 2007

I don't get this obsessive desire to hide behind fake online identities everywhere. Facebook is successful, IMO, because it's all about authenticity. Spend 30 seconds in the privacy settings and you're good to go. Private groups are a good way to share all the NSFFutureEmployers stuff.
posted by mkultra at 8:15 AM on October 15, 2007

You can remove yourself from Google in the "Search" part of the Privacy Settings.
posted by ALongDecember at 9:18 AM on October 15, 2007

One of the great things about facebook is that people are themselves. People I know really use their names, not like on myspace (ugh) where they are REDSOXFANFOREVA or something random like that. So I say try to be yourself, it fits in better on the site. However, you can be very private if needed, opening your profile only to your friends.

Here's what to do to be as private as possible. Click "Privacy" at the top right of the screen when you're logged in.

- Select "Only my friends" for everything
- Only friend people you know in real life.

- Make it so people can find you in facebook search, but can only add you as a friend (which you must confirm).
- Don't check "Create a public search listing for me and submit it for search engine indexing," which keeps you out of Google.

- Turn off as much of the Mini-Feed as possible.

- Click on "Other Applications." Click "Do not share any information about me through the Facebook API." This will limit you from adding on some neat games and applications, but will keep your data out of the hands of advertisers. If you choose to use applications, it will share only your name, friends, and network if you uncheck all of the boxes on that page.

Also, Limited Profile is a feature that allows some friends to only see some things about you.

But this isn't fun. If you're at a university, join only that network and let people in that network read your profile. Adjust your settings as necessary, maybe they can read interests but not see who you're friends with, etc.
posted by ALongDecember at 9:47 AM on October 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

The problem with your question is that you're misunderstanding Facebook. The entire point of Facebook is that it is an extension of your real life, and not an abstract internet popularity contest like Myspace. Facebook is completely useless if it is "separate as possible from my actual life." That being said, you have very rigorous controls over exactly which information is given to who.

When you sign up, unless you set otherwise, the only information visible to anyone at all is a thumbnail photo you provide (or a question mark if you don't provide one) and your name. If someone searches for your name on Facebook or Google, that is all they will see, assuming they could tell who you were from the thumbnail photo and separate it from everyone else with your name.

When you add your first friend on Facebook, you will given a sliding scale of how much information you want them to see - from none to all.

It's a lot safer than you'd think, and you're in complete control of all your information. Facebook is meant to complement and reinforce existing real-life relationships, and thus tells nobody anything until you tell it who your friends are and what you want them to see.
posted by nervestaple at 1:34 PM on October 15, 2007

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