The good news is that all of these things are under your control. You have the power. And with a little diligence, you can design a Facebook experience perfectly in line with the way you want to use the site.
It starts with input. If you don't want personal information available to Facebook, don't give it up. You don't even have to provide a photo: Your name, gender and date of birth are all that's required to sign up, and the latter two can even be hidden, if you'd prefer.
If you don't want people to be able to find you -- your profile, posts, content or personal information -- on search engines, it only takes a few clicks to make you practically invisible.
What happens with your Facebook profile is entirely up to you, if you're willing to explore your security options and settings. Yes, those photos from last Saturday may be pretty embarrassing, but it's simple to untag yourself from them -- or even set your privacy settings so that you never get tagged at all. By digging into your privacy and notification settings, as well as your lists, you can make sure nobody ever sees anything you don't want them to see, and that you're notified the second anybody else says anything about you.
Most of us don't really bother to check out the privacy settings in detail, but if you just sit down and play with them for a while, most of the user settings are designed to be pretty easy to use. By defining different parts of your profile at different security levels, you can keep security risks to a minimum while still using the site's functionality.
The major roadblock here is intimidation. You may think of Facebook as a giant company, or a shifty organization, or a haven for stalkers. You might think that the privacy settings are intentionally difficult to use, or that Facebook could profit from misusing your information. But the fact is that none of that is actually true. The reason those settings seem so complicated is actually because they're trying to help you find the right level of security for every piece of information you offer.
Don't be intimidated by Facebook: It's a tool, just like any other machine. For more Facebook articles, check out the links below.
- Christofides, Emily et al. "Hey Mom, What's on Your Facebook? Comparing Facebook Disclosure and Privacy in Adolescents and Adults." Social Psychological and Personality Science. May 17, 2011. (July 18, 2011) http://spp.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/05/13/1948550611408619.abstract
- Gilbertson, Scott. "Facebook Privacy Changes Hint at a Brave New, Twitter-Like, World." Wired. March 2009. (July 18, 2011) http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/03/facebook-privac
- Goodin, Dan. "How to sniff out private information on Facebook." The Register. June 2007. (July 18, 2011) http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/06/26/sniffing_private_facebook_info
- ibid. "Facebook's Gone Rogue; It's Time for an Open Alternative." Wired. May 2010. (July 18, 2011) http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2010/05/facebook-rogue/
- Muscavage, Amanda. "Facebook denies private information leak." Washington Examiner. May 2011. (July 18, 2011) http://washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/opinion-zone/2011/05/facebook-apps-symantec
- Opsahl, Kurt. "Facebook Further Reduces Your Control Over Personal Information." Electronic Frontier Foundation. April 2010. (July 18, 2011) https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/04/facebook-further-reduces-control-over-personal-information
- Quain, John R. "100 Million Facebook Users Learn True Meaning of Going Public." FOX News. July 2010. (July 18, 2011) http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/07/29/million-facebook-users-exposed/
- Reals, Tucker. "Facebook Personal Info of 100M Users Published." CBS News. July 29, 2010. (July 18, 2011) http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-501465_162-20012031-501465.html
- Singel, Ryan. "Facebook Private Profiles Not As Private As You Think They Are." Wired: Threat Level Blog. June 2007. (July 18, 2011) http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2007/06/facebook-privat/
- Sophos Security. "Sophos Facebook ID probe shows 41% of users happy to reveal all to potential identity thieves." Sophos Press Office. August 2007. (July 18, 2011) http://www.sophos.com/en-us/press-office/press-releases/2007/08/facebook.aspx
- Van Buskirk, Eliot. "Report: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Doesn't Believe In Privacy." Wired. April 2010. (July 18, 2011) http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2010/04/report-facebook-ceo-mark-zuckerberg-doesnt-believe-in-privacy/
- Wortham, Jenna. "Facebook Glitch Brings New Privacy Worries." The New York Times. May 10, 2010. (July 18, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/06/technology/internet/06facebook.html