Protecting your privacy on Facebook

May 23, 2012 8:50:25 PM PDT
Facebook is here to stay mostly because we keep feeding it the private details of our lives that it then turns into profit. Status updates, pictures, wall posts all paint a valuable picture of who we are. But as Facebook grows in value, so does your information along with the list of people who want it.

Right now, more than 150 million Americans have a Facebook page; almost 60 million households said they use the site daily. And every day, each of them willingly divulges Facebook's most valuable product, their most private and personal information, relying on privacy settings to guard their safety.

According to consumer reports 13 million Facebook users have never set privacy controls, tens of millions more set them just once. Those statistics are alarming to computer security experts.

"Concerns me greatly, especially when you look at the massive trove of data that Facebook is collecting on individuals," said online security expert Rob D'Ovidio of Drexel University.

Several times each year, Facebook makes changes to what information they collect, along with how, and with whom, they share it, at each step giving you the ability to divulge even more, such as checking in at a location or "liking" your favorite product,.

"Together that starts building a dossier of my travel habits, which can be very valuable to Facebook and other companies that advertise through Facebook," D'Ovidio said.

It's actually very valuable. That expanded reach allowed Facebook to multiply its revenue almost 5 fold in the last two years, to $3.7-billion in 2011. According to one website, which says it can calculate your individual worth to Facebook, the average user is worth almost $150! Our photographer entered his information to find he was worth $390.19 to the social network.

And with all that information, translating into huge sums of money, lots of people want a piece of the action. In part because of that, problems with Facebook rose 30 percent last year alone. That's everything from identity theft to harassment.

"That requires a very diligent user. That means that people need to go back into their privacy settings on a regular basis," D'Ovidio explained.

But it's not just your potential employer who wants to see what you put out there. Last year, 4.8 million people posted where they'd be on a given day, a tip off for burglars. 4.7 million people liked a page about a medical condition or treatments, information health insurers may use against you. And the government is looking, too. A 2009 IRS training manual shows agents how to use Facebook to assist in resolving a taxpayer's case, checking what you tell them against what you tell the world.

Facebook is in the process of changing people over to its new timeline format. When you make that change, some of your privacy setting will reset to public, meaning you should use that as an opportunity to go in and check over all your settings to make sure you're only sharing what you want, with whom you want.

Facebook Statement:
"We believe more than 900 million consumers have voluntarily decided to share and connect on Facebook because we provide them options and tools that place them in control of their information and experience. As part of our effort to empower and educate consumers, we always welcome constructive conversations about online privacy and safety."